Monthly Archives: February 2013

An Office Without A Door

Last year my husband and I built a new house on our quarter section of land. The home was made from my own design, and as the designer I got to create my office.

Other office 003

My office 026

My comfy reading chair

My comfy reading chair

My office consumes the whole top floor of our house and comes complete with a bathroom and a balcony. In the summer I set up a table and chair on the balcony so I can enjoy my morning coffee and write.

But in the winter I must remain inside at my desk.

My office 028

As you can see it is no hardship. The inside of my office is almost as nice as being outside in nature. But silly me, I forgot to put in a door. The door at the bottom in the picture leads to the master bedroom, but the stairwell itself, opens to the livingroom.

My office 003

When I set out to design my private office space, one would think, a door would have been my first priority but it honestly never entered my head. Thankfully, my husband works away, and my daughter is at school all day, and I really have the house to myself for large portions of time.

I love my office even without the door. My only other gripe about my office is that the windows in front of my desk let in too much sun. I really should invest in blinds. I just can’t bear to block the view or the natural light so I shift in my chair and hide behind my monitor and consider moving the desk around.

Now that you have seen the office are a few facts about what happens in my space.

**** My best writing time is in in the morning after I have exercised.

**** I can consume up to 4 pots of green tea during a work day. This of course necessitates the nearby bathroom.

**** On a great writing day I stop only out of hunger. On a truly excellent writing day I stop only when the alarm goes off, annoucing my daughter needs to be picked up from the bus. I am usually starving, but until that alarm goes off, I do not notice.

**** I won’t lie. I have built-in procrastination procedures incorporated into my writing process. Before I begin writing I usually check my e-mail. I will then play solitaire while I listen to selectively chosen, mood enhancing music. And if I am in a truly uninspired mood I’ll check Facebook. I have a bad habit of always answering the phone, even if I know it is a telemarketer.

**** My average writing work week is four days a week, seven hour days. Lately much of that time is being used blogging, and working on promotional and publication duties for my upcoming book. I am only averaging one work day a week on my new novel. That will change after my book launch because I do not want to take another 12 years to finish the next book.

**** I have a small heater in my office. I need warmth or my fingers won’t type.

**** I can not write when I am tired or sleepy. I will fall asleep on my keyboard.

**** I used to see insomnia as a curse; now it is is extra writing time (but only if I am willing to haul my butt out of the warm bed and turn the furnace up).

The Voices In My Head Make Me Do It

Last week I delved further into my writing process explaining I am not entirely alone. I ended that blog with a promise to discuss how in addition to “my creativity” I also commune with the voices in my head.

Once a situation strikes my curiosity and I decide I want to write about it, the characters step forth to act out this dilemma. They introduce themselves and tell me their stories like a friend sharing confidences over coffee. More often than not, the exchange is deeper, more like a friend who has drank too many glasses of wine. This wasn’t always the case. When I began to write my first novel, there were no voices and the characters were as flat as the paper I wrote on.

In “Seascape”, Skylar, my main character was loosely based on me. In my experience all characters have their seeds in the writer, but Skylar was the character who spoke most like me. Having used this device once I was now at a loss. I could not construct a whole novel of Shannon-based characters. Not enough novel-worthy material could be mined from this source. Once I accepted my characters could not come entirely from me, I began to look around for inspiration.

I don’t replicate people on the page, but I may steal attributes. In native mythology, the Raven is closely identified with storytellers. I was told that this is in part because Ravens are thieves. And in this aspect I am a thief. I take little kernels from the world around me. (Remember my writing shirt “Careful or you’ll end up in my novel”) Once gathered these kernels or stolen aspects can grow.

I want my characters to be original and fresh, but it is more important they are believable and realistic. In the beginning my characters were flat because I didn’t like them to have flaws. They said and did all the right things; it was terribly uninteresting. This all changed when Lexie, the older sister to Skylar, began to speak to speak to me.

I never had an older sister so my original template for Lexie was manufactured from clichés at hand. She was the bossy older sister. In an attempt to challenge myself I considered motivations for her cliché behavior. Lexie began to develop. She took shape in my mind, began to have conversations with me and emerged as so much more than my original construct. Lexie surpasses normal bossiness. She is unapologetic and so certain of her own correctness, she speaks without a filter. When I pondered why she might be this way Lexie explained she keeps all her relationships superficial. For example she enjoys sex recreationally. This told me she is uncomfortable with intimacy. As I explain it now it seems manufactured, but once I had a strong idea of who she was, Lexie would interact with me. She would agree or disagree with my choices for her. She would argue with Skylar. Skylar would respond and I would jot it all down.

The more I was willing to interact with my characters, the more they grew in dimension, and the faster they lifted off the page becoming energies not entirely under my control. Now all my characters talk to me. It is part of the magic that can happen. If I listen and record, and try not to direct, judge, or change them, everything flows. I can ask them questions like how they feel about a direction I want to take or if they ever had an experience, and they’ll answer. When I try to tell them what to do, if I try to direct or manipulate my characters, I get stuck. They resist and they are always right.

My second novel, the book I am currently writing, has numerous characters. Each is very distinct and developed in my head, but I struggled with one. She did not and would not speak to me. I could not see her, but another character spoke for her. I argued with him, and tried to write out her story. Nothing would come. When I gave up trying to “write her” my other character told me she was dead. I could not write her story because she could not speak to me. She would never be a breathing character; she would only be spoken of.

I get that these characters are my creations. I even see how I have used people in the world around me as a launching point. But my characters are known to me, not as written constructs, but as life-like energies that exist inside my head. They are born. They live, love and sometimes they die. How this happens is not always of my choosing.

I began writing with the belief I would be in the driver’s seat. Now the process feels more like I am the recorder of someone else’s story. In real life I am honored by a friend’s willingness to reveal themself to me; in my writing world I am humbled by my characters willingness to do the same. There is an exchange. They touch my heart; my characters change me.

When you read “Seascape”, if Skylar, Lexie, and Mack step off the pages, and enter your mind, and if in doing so they impact your heart, I want you to know I could not create or manipulate that experience if I tried. That only occurs for the reader because the similar thing happened to me as a writer.

I call that magic!

Next week I’ll post pictures of my beautiful office and describe my mechanics of writing – including beverage consumption, duration of writing sessions, and how I deal with interruptions and procrastination.

I Wish My Creativity Was a Fully Loaded Apple Tree I Could Shake

Last night I finished reading Stephen King’s book “On Writing”. I had stacks to read ahead of it but it jumped the queue. It was perfect timing to read about his writing process when I was about to discuss my writing process. My friend suggested Stephen and I had many things in common which sparked my interest. (I figure I can’t be on the wrong track if I have commonalities with one of the most successful and well-known writers of our time.)

Stephen and I are much alike. Aside from writing, and profound need to read, we both feel an element of magic in our writing experience. Stephen King suggests stories seem “pre-existing” like “fossils in the ground”, and as writers, our job is to unearth them as fully as possible. He also suggests in relation to writing “that you’d do well to remember that we are also talking about magic.”

Magic and writing. Hmm…

As someone who has sat at a desk and done the hard work of cranking out good pages and bad pages, I am loath to admit it takes more than just hard work. Stephen calls it “magic”. For me it is a creative, spiritual experience.

(Oh boy! Did I lose any readers with this statement?)

I’ll try not to dive too deeply off the “New Age” diving board, but like Stephen King I have to acknowledge in the act of creation, I’ve experienced magical moments. And I emerge from these writing bouts feeling like a vessel which has been used to pour something out. I am not always firmly in control. I’m there. I am melded and mixed with the creative energy, but later on the words surprise me. I can remember the creative emotion I was trying to evoke; I recall physically striking the keys. However, what I read lacks familiarity. Logically, physically, I can’t deny the words came from me. I try my best to recognize them, but I have to acknowledge they do not always feel, wholly, of me.

Some people refer to this as being under the influence of “a muse”. I call it “My Creativity”. My Creativity is most easily described as those occasions when I feel driven to write. Characters speak to me; scenes develop and flash through my head like a movie, playing out for my mind’s eye. I experience strong, visceral emotions I am compelled to recreate with words. If I can get in front of a computer or pick up a scribbler and a pen, the words come easy.

My Creativity is more than occasion when I feel driven to write, she feels like an energy separate from myself. She is an unreliable partner who rarely times her appearance with my opportunities to write. She is flighty and fickle and very likely to bounce in and overwhelm my imagination when I am buried by responsibility. I have to say as a writer there is nothing more frustrating and painful than a day creativity calls and you cannot adhere to it.

Equally as difficult are days when I have time and freedom to write but no inspiration. My Creativity does not appear automatically but on her own whimsical timetable. This cold, Canadian, Sunday morning I could have slept in until noon but My Creativity decided we should get up at seven so I could write this post all about her. I value a Sunday sleep-in, but I honour her more, because when she gets my time and attention I will spend less time forcing words onto the page. I try to be prepared for her. I carry a pen and a notepad everywhere and to jot down quick notes. Later, these notes can bring her back and inspire more writing. Driving, showering, sitting outside, and listening to music can also open the conduit to connecting to My Creativity.

When My Creativity and opportunity connect I write in bursts, typing with my eyes firmly on the keyboard. Yes, eyes firmly on the keyboard because I never took typing in school. I feel my mistakes but I don’t stop and correct as I go. My Creativity is not to be wasted. I let the current flow, holding the conduit open.

If she does not come I do not sit around and wait. I can always edit. Editing isn’t as fun. It is hard work but I admit to a twisted satisfaction at slashing and hacking improvements into my manuscript. Sometimes editing will coax My Creativity out and we’ll write another thick, flurry of pages. If not I have the time to fix the emotion-filled but error-riddled mess we left behind the last time we joined up to write.

Without My Creativity the writing can be bad. But bad writing is still writing. Sometimes I have to “fake it until I make it”. A writer who does not write is like someone who dreams of winning the lottery but never buys a ticket. I buy the ticket and I write. Funny enough, the less I depend on My Creativity the easier she has become to find. I am adept at recognizing sources of inspiration in life events, interactions and personal connections without her. (Warning: my favorite writing attire is a sweatshirt which says “Careful or you’ll end up in my novel”.)

Today My Creativity showed up. She helped me write not just this post, but next week’s post. She also peppered me with additions to my second novel while I was trying to shower. Finally she refused to end her day-long appearance until I agreed that next week I should introduce my blog readers to the “others” who make my writing possible. My Creativity reminded me I do not write alone. She is right. I seriously doubt I could write effectively at all without the voices in my head.

The Book Is Done. Now What?

Back in 2009, as I was finishing my book I had to consider what I would do with my completed manuscript. Once it became known I had written a book, people asked me when I was going to get it published. For those of you not in the field, let me just say, getting published, used to be a little like trying to become a famous rock star.

Publishing houses receive thousands of manuscript each year, and yours is one in the slush pile. Over time, even getting into a stack at a publishing companyhas become extremely difficult. Many publishers will not even look at a manuscript today, unless it comes from an agent. I submitted to a few publishing houses and when I received no response I knew I had to find an agent.

Finding an agent was not easy.  It required tremendous research. I had to find agents interested in my style of book, and then I had to research their submission guidelines. Each agent’s guidelines vary. Some want a query letter introducing yourself and your book. Others want a synopsis of your book, the first chapter, or the first hundred pages. Some want all of the above. If you deviate even slightly from their guidelines they will discard your submission.

It took a week just to put together three submissions. I sent out nearly twenty submissions to agents and publishers in all. I only ever received 6 replies. Of those replies, two were e-mailed stock letters informing me they were not interested. The other four were hand written notes, which gave me hope. I was told I had a good manuscript. Two of them recommended agents more suited to my style of book. It was a long frustrating process; waiting up to six months for a reply was such a waste of time. I realized it could take years before I found an agent to represent my book, never mind getting my book in front of a publisher. I am not known for my patience.

I decided to explore the self-publishing option. When I first began writing, self-publishing was still considered vanity publishing. It was what people did who were not “good enough” to get a traditional publishing deal. Self-published books were considered substandard, the publishers shady, and the process was too expensive for authors to make any money. With this opinion firmly in place, I was a bit of a snob, and wanted to hold out for a traditional publishing offer. However, my frustration with the “finding an agent process” led me to realize I may have to put my book on a shelf and move on. I had a great deal of time and effort invested. I didn’t want to give up on my story.

Thankfully over the last decade there has been a tremendous shift in the culture and attitudes towards self-published books. This shift became more prevalent thanks to the ease, popularity, and development of eReaders and the eBook. The self-publishing industry has exploded. Authors can get their work in front of the world-wide audience and retain a greater share of the royalties. Readers are recognizing an affordable quality product is being offered. I found a company that offered me both an e-book and hardcopy printed version for a very reasonable rate. I decided to take the self-publishing plunge.

I am glad I did. Now, waiting for a traditional deal seems silly. As a first time author, even if I found a publisher, or an agent, I’d have to do most of the marketing and promotion myself. Also, a traditional publisher would have control over my cover, title, and to some extent the content of my book.

With self-publishing I retain complete control but I also I have complete financial responsibility. My success is entirely in my own hands, not only in the production of a quality story but also in how hard I work to sell my product. This is a very scary proposition. To be honest it is very daunting. I want to write. I just want to write. But I could not accept that my book and all the work I put into it, would simply take up space on a shelf in my office.

And so my self-publishing journey began, and it is all in my hands.

Next week I’ll talk a bit about my writing process.