What’s Your Ritual?

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From FreeDictionary.com:

rit·u·al  (rĭch′o̅o̅-əl)

n.

1.

a. The prescribed order of a religious ceremony.
b. The body of ceremonies or rites used in a place of worship.

2.

a. The prescribed form of conducting a formal secular ceremony: the ritual of an inauguration.
b. The body of ceremonies used by a fraternal organization.
3. A book of rites or ceremonial forms.

4. rituals

a. A ceremonial act or a series of such acts.
b. The performance of such acts.

5.

a. A detailed method of procedure faithfully or regularly followed: My household chores have become a morning ritual.
b. A state or condition characterized by the presence of established procedure or routine: “Prison was a ritual—reenacted daily, year in, year out. Prisoners came and went; generations came and went; and yet the ritual endured” (William H. Hallahan).

adj.

1. Associated with or performed according to a rite or ritual: a priest’s ritual garments; a ritual sacrifice.
2. Being part of an established routine: a ritual glass of milk before bed.

[From Latin rītuālis, of rites, from rītus, rite; see rite.]

rit′u·al·ly adv.

Besides flaying wombats in the moonlight and drinking elephant blood from glass slippers, what’s your ritual?

Remembering that Rule #1 of Writers’ Club is THERE IS NO WRITERS’ CLUB, what are the things you do to help you identify yourself as a card-carrying member of the Writers’ Club? What are your ceremonial acts as a writer?

The healthiest writers have rituals. Whatever their rituals might be, they serve to help them stay on track in their writing lives. Life is busy. We don’t always have the luxury of discovering hidden pockets of time that we can use in whatever way we like. This is why ceremonies help. For instance, it’s always a good idea to earmark time…to give yourself a daily allotment of time that is 100% dedicated to writing. If you feel you’d be a more productive writer in the morning, pencil in 8am-9am (or whatever hour in the day that works best for you—you decide) as WRITING TIME on your daily planner. Every day. And DO NOT DEVIATE. Whether it’s just an everyday day, Christmas, or you’re on vacation in Kathmandu, make that hour your time to write every single day of your life. If you’re more productive in the evening, pencil in 8pm-9pm as WRITING TIME. Or 2am-3am. You get it. Pick an hour and own it. Make it yours. That’s the best daily ritual a writer can have.

There are so many rituals you can add to your writing life. And the beauty of it is none of them need to make a lick of sense to anybody else but you. Here’s a couple ideas:

  • Take a walk before you sit down to write. Make it a walking meditation through the woods or a stroll downtown in the deafening din of rush hour. Do it every time. Make it the way you start your writing day.
  • Make a mixed tape of the music that most suits your writing. Listen to it every time you write, or every time before you begin to write. Turn it into your Pavlov’s Dog tape. Every time you hear one of those songs in the wild, you will want to write. You will be recalling the writer in you at times when you least expect it. Connection and association helps us to maintain productivity.
  • Booze. Not for everyone. (-: Pour a shot of Jack Daniels, inhale it…and begin writing.
  • Don that threadbare plaid housecoat you keep in the back of the closet. You know the one, your writing robe. Own it. Be a writer every single time you put it on. Or that one dress, one pair of shoes, pipe, whatever it may be. If you have something specific that you wear when you write, make it a magical source of inspiration every single time you don it.
  • Sit-Ups, Jumping-Jacks and Dance Moves. Want to inject some health-conscious moves into your everyday writing routine? Go for it. Give yourself a ten-minute workout either before or after you put down your words.
  • Sketch. Make other creative endeavors part of your routine. Draw for 15 minutes and follow up with 45 minutes of writing.
  • Coffee or Tea. Even the benign everyday routine of making coffee or steeping tea can be done from a place of meditative peacefulness. Before you write every morning, take yourself to the kitchen and perform the task of making coffee or tea. Take your time. Meditate as the kettle boils or the coffee drips. Attain inner peace while the water ruminates. Or maybe ruminate while the water attains inner peace. Make this an important ritual that will set you up for an excellent hour of writing.

Of course, these are just a few easy suggestions. What every writer has to do is FIND YOUR OWN WAY. Just remember when you’re picking and choosing the proper rituals that will inspire your word-flow that there are rituals that will end badly. You want to find something that will make you limber and ready to hit the words. You want to be kind to yourself and create an environment that will be conducive to creativity. If your pre-writing ritual is 10 minutes on Facebook, followed by 10 minutes on Twitter, you may NEVER get to the point where you’re putting words on paper. Choose wisely, grasshopper. And choose based on the kind of person you are, not based on what other people tell you you should do. Charles Dickens always rearranged the ornaments on his desk into a certain order prior to writing. That was his ritual. I don’t have ornaments on my desk. Truth be told, I don’t have a desk. If I thought I needed to follow his ritual in order to write, I’d spend all my writing time at Ikea worrying over which desk would serve me best. So don’t take yourself too far afield from who you are to find the rituals that work best for you. Just pamper your writing time, and the time leading up to it. Make sure you’re ready, every day, to tackle the task.

If you are not aware of Donald Hebb, you should be. The Hebbian Theory, brought to its simplest, kind of says, “Cells that fire together, wire together.” You get those rituals in place, and every time you take part in the ritual you’re brain will be preparing to write. ‘Oh, I’m doing the making coffee ritual! I get to write now!’

Writer Steven Pressfield outlined his ritual-filled pre-writing morning in his book, THE WAR OF ART:

I head back to my office, crank up the computer. My lucky hooded sweatshirt is draped over the chair, with the lucky charm I got from a gypsy in Saintes-Maries-de-la-Mer for only eight bucks in francs, and my lucky LARGO name tag that came from a dream I once had. I put it on. On my thesaurus is my lucky cannon that my friend Bob Versandi gave me from Morro Castle, Cuba. I point it toward my chair, so it can fire inspiration into me. I say my prayer, which is the Invocation of the Muse from Homer’s Odyssey, translation by T.E. Lawrence, Lawrence of Arabia, that my deal mate Paul Rink gave me and which sits near my shelf with the cuff links that belonged to my father and my lucky acorn from the battlefield at Thermopylae. It’s about ten-thirty now. I sit down and plunge in.”

Do you see? Some of his rituals are quirky, yes…but they work for him. They give him the routine he needs to ‘plunge in‘. Could I write without the container of trail mix beside me? Probably. But I don’t want to. Eating that trail mix is firing my synapses…telling me it’s time to write. Like Pavlov’s Dog, I write.

Trigger yourself to be a better writer through ritual. Now, off you go…go forth and write!

Grady Tripp and his lucky writing housecoat...
Grady Tripp and his lucky writing housecoat…

Listed – The Things I Will Carry

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I recently received a terrifying email from Sue Kenney, the organizer of the Camino trip I am taking in May. To be fair, there is nothing terrifying about Sue. She’s a lovely person. I’ve had the pleasure of novel marathoning with her in the past and I’m looking forward to walking the Camino in her footsteps.

What terrified me was the list of things I am to carry during my walk. The list is remarkably sparse. On the surface, this makes a great deal of sense. We will, after all, be walking every day…and carrying everything we pack with us every day. In theory, I knew the list would be short. It’s the luggage packing maniac in me who has begun to panic. How am I to carry so little for so many days? I’ve taken more with me on long weekends.

Perhaps if I brought along a donkey, nobody would notice. Said donkey could walk alongside me and carry the burden of my guilt infested well-appointed luggage. And if it’s a small donkey, I might even be able to squeeze him into two airline seats. In the proper costume, said donkey could probably pass as a rather corpulent human. Heck, if he’s small enough, I wouldn’t even need the second seat…we could just sit in the more spacious first class section of the airplane.

I’m sorry. I don’t know where that came from. Yes I do. I’m in the denial stage. I’m still under the mistaken impression that I could talk my way around the tiny list of meager possessions I am expected to carry. What can I say. As I was writing, my donkey brayed and that bray was the kernel of an idea. A means of rescue for an over-packer.

CLICK HERE to check out Sue Kenney’s Camino Group Journey!

I thought I would compile a list of the things I will carry that will neither be in my backpack nor on my person during my Camino walk.

1. A rock I took from a mountain in Ohio during a Male Survivor Weekend of Recovery retreat (a retreat for men who were sexually abused as boys). The group of men I was with during that weekend all held this particular rock. It is meant to be a sort of talisman against the darkness. To hold it is to recall that weekend of empowerment and the men I shared it with. I will be leaving this rock at the cross of iron at Cruz del Ferro, if we are indeed to pass by this particular milestone in our shortened Camino walk. If not, it is of no matter. I will still be leaving the rock somewhere along my journey that seems of particular significance to me. (Read about the Cruz del Ferro milestone here)(so, technically, this will actually be on my person…I’m not really good at following rules.)

2. Fearlessness. I don’t think this is something I will be able to squeeze into my backpack. Fearlessness takes up a lot of space. It is better to carry it in my chest, where there is more room.

3. Faith in Goodness and Good Things. This is something I often have a hard time packing, even on my daily workaday adventures. You might have read my recent blog that referenced a quote by the late great Sid Caesar. “You think just because something good happens, THEN something bad has got to happen? Not necessarily. Two good things have happened in a row.”  I tend to have a lot of faith in the happenstance of bad things. I wonder now if I should unpack my faith in bad things happening instead of attempt to pack a faith in good things happening. Or maybe I can do both. It’s always a good idea to get away from yourself when you’re travelling.

4. Wild-Eyed Wonder. I will be seeing beautiful things. I want to open my heart to it all, take it in and carry it with me beyond the plane-ride home. If I carry with me the same simple practice of wonder that I see in my grandson, Edward, I think I will be able to do this. When he sees the colour green, or a frog, or his favourite stuffed toy, or a puzzle, or chocolate, or mangoes…he himself becomes quite wondrous. If I think like him, see things for the first time like him, perhaps I will be able to enjoy every little detail of the Camino as I come upon it.

5. A notebook. Okay, like the rock, this is also something I will actually have on my person. A tangible physical item. But I will use it as an extension of myself. I will not worry about the grandeur of the words I choose to add to its pages. I will simply jot down the things that come to me. This is, after all, a pilgrimage. I’m sure a true pilgrim will always have a means to record the pilgrimage they are taking. I will be the notebook and the notebook will be me.

6. Cynicism. I will carry this in a safe place. Somewhere dark, isolated, and unreachable. It will be the thing I swallow before I leave the plane on the first day of my journey. And I will do my best to digest it and allow it to leave completely so I will no longer be required to carry it on my person once my journey is over. Cynicism is one of those things one just can’t seem to unpack. Best to just take it in and convert it to something more useful along the way. I know I can do this, because I am practicing on my Faith of Good Things happening.

If I make sure I have these things, they will help me to not notice the things I may lack in my backpack. Carrying these things may help me to be kinder to myself and to those around me. I’m ready for this. I can do this. The rock in my pocket, and all the things it represents, has given me a new kind of power. Sure, I intend on leaving it behind when I go to Spain…but I also intend on carrying it with me forever. Some things multiply in bounty as you let them go. If you have just the right amount of faith in a thing, you can watch it grow, even as it disappears in the distance. I’m making this journey to reclaim something that was taken from me. Sure, I may just be walking a well-beaten path to nowhere…but with every Camino Walk there is an immense inner journey that happens simultaneously to your feet touching the ground and your body being propelled forward.

Or so I’m told…

My Return to the Castle! (Trafalgar24)

Trafalgar Castle, Whitby, Ontario
Trafalgar Castle, Whitby, Ontario

I recently mentioned that I had some super secret news. We’re now allowed to talk about it. (-;

On Thursday March 6th I have the distinct pleasure of being locked inside Trafalgar Castle in Whitby, Ontario for the 5th time! FIVE TIMES. FIVE! Count ’em! Five! (-:

With the tagline, 24 ARTISTS. 24 HOURS. 6 NEW PLAYS., you just know it’s the one must-see event of the year in these parts. There is nothing quite as extraordinary as Trafalgar24.

outside the castle

I don’t know how I get so lucky. Sometimes, it’s hard being a writer (shhhh…not really). But at other times, it’s quite the fairytale. Trafalgar is my fairytale.

Trafalgar Castle, Whitby, Ontario
Trafalgar Castle, Whitby, Ontario

I enjoy everything about this play festival. I love the anticipation of waiting to see which room my play will be set in, how many actors I will be given to work with, whether those actors will be male, female or both. I love arriving at the castle at night and knowing I won’t be leaving until daylight. I love knowing that when I do leave the castle the next morning, that I leave behind a complete 10-minute play. For one night a year, I’m the elf…leaving behind a hopefully stunning pair of shoes for the shoemaker to discover.

piano

I love knowing that as I’m driving away from the castle, there are a group of eager (and probably a little scared, anxious and excited) actors and directors arriving to rehearse the plays we playwrights leave behind. I love knowing that within those castle walls, for the entirety of the day, there is creation happening…actors are becoming the characters we leave behind, making them bigger and better and full of life. And directors are envisioning the perfect business to attach to the playwrights’ words. SO MUCH MAGIC!

front entrance inside

And as I arrive back at the castle, a little after nightfall, there is an air of highly electrified excitement. The actors are there, the directors are there, the volunteer soldiers of the Driftwood Theatre Company are there. And the opening ceremonies see the castle fill to the rafters with audience members eager to see what delights are in store for them this year! Delights both culinary and theatrical…as the dessert bar at Trafalgar 24 is renown.

The audience, broken into 6 groups, tours the castle and sees all 6 of the plays in the 6 castle rooms chosen for the event.

Playwrights have no idea going in which room they will get to write their play in. To date, I’ve had the basement, the piano room, the auditorium and the lab. I love getting to my room, taking a walk around and trying to figure out what will happen there. So far, each room has spoken to me. I can’t wait to see where I get put this year!

If you have not yet grabbed your Trafalgar24 ticket, I suggest you do it now. This event sells out yearly:

TRAFALGAR24 TICKETS

DRIFTWOOD THEATRE GROUP’S TRAFALGAR24 WEBPAGE

See you at the castle!

From Driftwood’s Webpage:

Trafalgar 24 is a fundraising event in support of driftwood theatre

Every March, 24 playwrights, directors and actors get locked into a 19th century castle nestled in Whitby, Ontario, for a theatre creation event unlike any other. Using the castle as inspiration, their challenge is to create, rehearse and perform six new plays in only 24 hours.

This extraordinary festival is also Driftwood’s signature fundraising gala. Be among an exclusive audience to witness six new site-specific plays; feast on a fabulous selection of wine, cheese and desserts; find spectacular deals on entertainment, electronics, services, art and more at our silent auction; and help discover Driftwood’s next Beyond The Castle playwright.

March 7, 2014 | Trafalgar Castle | 401 Richmond Street, Whitby.

castle front

2014 Galiano Literary Festival

I’m home from the Galiano Literary Festival! I think I accidentally left my heart in Galiano though. (-:

Galiano Inn

Air travel aside, the trip to Galiano was extraordinary! I stayed at the beautiful Galiano Oceanfront Inn and Spa, which is also the venue for the festival. And a wonderful venue it was. The setting was so completely conducive to the festival. The food was exceptional. Saturday’s Author Dinner, though fully sold out, had a quaint and intimate feel to it. I suppose the grand picture windows looking out onto Sturdies Bay didn’t hurt the atmosphere of the dinner very much. There were several menu options for the gala dinner, but I went with the ravioli. Possibly the best ravioli I ever had.

CLICK THIS LINK TO VISIT THE GALIANO OCEANFRONT INN AND SPA WEBSITE! (you need to visit them!)

What I enjoyed the most about the festival were the author readings. There was such a wide variety of authors to hear from. The poets on hand all blew me away. Each have left lasting impressions on me. Brad Cran and Amber Dawn both left me breathless. I had the near impossible task of picking up my heart from the roundhouse floor after sitting through Brad’s remarkably poignant and breathtaking words. And Amber’s readings were so incredibly authentic, wry, honest, brave and true. Simply hearing that raw authenticity in one’s words spurs me on to try the same in my own work. She’s truly a fearless poet. If you ever get the opportunity to read either Brad Cran or Amber Dawn, don’t pass it up.

All three of the Bowerings in attendance were delightful. George is clearly a consummate bad boy of sorts, always cracking jokes, and having fun. I could see it being extremely easy to fall into his orbit…he seems a bit of a sorcerer of fun. George was also a knowledgeable and wonderful addition to the panel discussion on the future of the book, which he co-paneled with Jack Hodgins and Kathryn Para (Jack also read a wonderful piece from his Cadillac Cathedral). Thea Bowering and Marilyn Bowering both read at the festival as well…to the sheer delight of those in attendance.

I had yet to hear of Michael Christie prior to attending the festival. His IF I FALL, IF I DIE is now on my MUST READ list. Such a wonderful fiction on the trapping of agoraphobia. I was fascinated not only by the storyline itself, but also by the beautifully lyrical prose in which it was written. Sadly, Christie read from manuscript pages…so I will have to wait until early 2015 to read the novel. I found the pairing of Michael Christie with Michael Wuitchik to be perfect. Wuitchik read from My Heart is Not My Own, which I will be reading in the coming weeks. Since I’m so drawn to the African continent myself, I’m excited to read another work set there. Wuitchik’s novel is set both in Sierra Leone and Canada.

It seems there may have been two ‘scamps’ at the festival this year (George Bowering being the first). Grant Lawrence’s poignant readings from his ADVENTURES IN SOLITUDE hit me like Brad Cran’s poetry hit me. I found myself unsure of what emotion I was experiencing throughout the reading. He brought me close to tears at one moment and had me stifling laughter the next. Such a wild ride. He was clearly as much a character as was George Bowering. Thankfully, neither of the two thought to plan out a clandestine late night rendezvous to T.P. the inn. Or perhaps they did, but also realized everybody in attendance would easily pin the crime on them.

What I found uniquely wonderful about a few of the author readings were the presentations they gave surrounding their featured books. My two personal favourites were Chris Arnett‘s Two Houses Half Buried in Sand presentation and Aaron Chapman‘s remarkable presentation of his book Liquor, Lust & the Law. Seeing those two presentations gave me so many insights into West Coast life. Chapman’s talk opened my eyes to an amazing B.C. nightclub staple I previously knew nothing about. The Penthouse Nightclub saw the likes of Sammy Davis Jr, Nat King Cole and Duke Ellington on its stage. Not to mention such clientele as Gary Cooper, Errol Flynn and Frank Sinatra. The presentation was riveting…a perfect closer for the festival.

The view from my room at the inn...
The view from my room at the inn…

For the writers attending the festival, there were a few workshops to choose from on the Saturday of the festival. The inclusion of writing related workshops in a predominantly readercentric festival was a stroke of genius. I thoroughly enjoyed both Joelle Anthony’s writing with sensory detail workshop and Linda L. Richards’ idea mining workshop.

galiano2

This was the 5th annual Galiano Literary Festival. Now would be the time to mark your calendars for next year’s event. It truly is a must-see Canadian Lit-Fest. So worth the trip across the country to see. And Galiano Island isn’t too shabby either. I find some time between events to sneak out with my camera and capture some of the breathtaking sights.

galiano

The folks at Galiano Island Books were incredible…their dedication to Canadian literature is awe-inspiring. I used to think there was no bookstore on earth as supportive and nurturing to the written word and its architects as Blue Heron Books in Uxbridge, Ontario. I discovered this weekend that this is not the case at all. I now have two favourite bookstores. So what if neither of them are walking distance from my home in Toronto…they both have the perfect model for what an independent bookstore SHOULD be. They both are entrenched in the community in which they serve and they both celebrate the wares they so obviously adore. To find the perfect bookstore is to discover happiness for the first time. To find two perfect bookstores? Well, that’s just divine providence. I know I will be back to both.

galiano books

CLICK THIS LINK TO VISIT THE GALIANO LITERARY FESTIVAL WEBSITE!

CLICK THIS LINK TO VISIT THE GALIANO ISLAND BOOKSTORE ON THE WEB!

Galiano calls!

driftwood

Deadlines and Commitments and Secret News, Oh My!

There’s a reason I love to share my good news from my writing life. It’s not because I want to brag about it. It’s not because I’m proud and I want to set myself up for a pride-goeth-before-the-fall moment. It’s so much deeper than that. I want to immediately share my writing accomplishments and milestones because I never get over being stunned that these things are happening to me. I am ALWAYS in a state of shock over my good fortune. I’m sure there’s someone standing around the next corner waiting to approach me and say, “We were only kidding, dingbat! Like these things would EVER happen to someone like you.”

But that gets a little tiring for people to hear. I know it does. I know I’M tired of hearing it. I want to own these things, take pride in them…be able to say, “I deserve this.” The truth is, I feel I am an incredibly lazy writer. I’m just waiting for the floor to fall out from under me. For people to discover just how lazy I really am when it comes to my writing life.

They say the first step is knowing that you have a problem. Sometimes I wish somebody would tell you what the second step is. What does one do with the knowledge of their problem? Enlightenment of your shortcomings seems like a huge step. I wonder how many of us try to make that initial step the journey itself. Yes, I know I have this problem…now I can die happy.

That’s not how it works. Somewhere along the line you have to discover a way to move past–move through–your problem. For me, I know my problem is about self-confidence in my abilities to write. As every accomplishment is reached, I wait for the sucker-punch that will inevitably take it away from me. I’m not worthy.

Sid Caesar died the other day (Wednesday, February 12, 2014). I wanted to share a quote of his with you.

“You think just because something good happens, THEN something bad has got to happen? Not necessarily. Two good things have happened in a row.”

That kind of smacks of his brand of humour, but it also smacks of a seemingly universal truth. Some humans have a hard time accepting good things happening to them. I suppose there is a myriad of reasons for this phenomenon. I know, for myself, I feel a high level of discomfort when a good thing happens. I don’t expect it. I worry, “BUT WHAT DOES THIS MEAN. I mean, really, mean…what does it really mean?!”

Well, lately some big GOOD THINGS have been happening to me. This time around, I’ve been trying extremely hard to just embrace them. Enjoy the ride. It might even be working somehow.

Which brings me to the deadlines and commitments. And my OH SO SECRET NEWS. (-:

I’m working fast and furious at getting through the first round of edits for HALF DEAD AND FULLY BROKEN and BURN BABY, BURN BABY. If you see me about, please YELL AT ME. Tell me to go home. Tell me B.I.C. If you see me writing blog posts, tell me to stop! I have never had 2 manuscripts to polish at once before. This is new to me. My head is swimming with these two stories as I make my way through them. Thankfully, I despise missing deadlines and I take my commitments extremely seriously. I shall overcome! I will get these edits done.

Sometimes the work you do as a writer isn’t about creation. This is the time when it becomes a chore for me. Don’t get me wrong, though. A chore does not a burden make. I love every aspect of the writing life. There are just degrees of difficulty. My Achilles heel is the editing aspect, but it doesn’t mean I don’t enjoy it. I just need to give myself that extra push…I think because it’s not so much about discovery as it is about repair. The initial writing process is my heroin…trying to keep the fingers moving at the same pace as the mind as I write to discover what will happen next. Nirvana!

As for the big news that I am bursting to share? I will soon be able to announce it. Again, I am attempting to come to terms with it…accept that I am worthy of it. Once the moratorium on mentioning it has been lifted, though, you best believe I’ll be talking about it. And, hopefully, fully owning the blessing as well. I do deserve these things. I may be a lazy writer, but I’m trying. I’m doing the only thing I know how to do. I’m soldiering on. I’m connecting. I’m opening my writing life up to the possibilities that surround me. And, more than anything else combined, I’m stepping outside my comfort zone. I’m attempting to do things I never once thought I was worthy of doing.

Now, if I don’t get back to editing the guillotine I set up over my head is likely to fall. And I’m too busy at the moment to lose my head.

Happy Writing! And Happy Embracing Your Inner Writer! And Happy Accepting the Good Things that Come Your Way!

R.I.P. Sid Caesar - Thanks for the funny. Thanks for the inspiration.
R.I.P. Sid Caesar – Thanks for the funny. Thanks for the inspiration.

To Thine Own Self Be Stew & I Finally Give the Old Bard the Nod!

william-shakespeare-my-love-as-deep1
Okay, so this particularly quote makes me think of swimming with my cousins when I was young. The first one in would often be asked, “How deep is it?” This would invariably be answered with, “How deep is your love!” And we would all laugh…

J’adore Shakespeare! It’s true. I don’t even know the why of it. I just do. It started with Romeo & Juliet, but I think it really took hold with Macbeth and The Merchant of Venice. Or maybe the foundation was solidified with The Comedy of Errors and Much Ado About Nothing. I don’t know. I love so many of his works. He’s up there with Mark Twain, for me. Funny, poignant, intelligent and not condescending.

This brings me to the Hamlet quote I pseudo-referenced in the title:

Polonius:

This above all: to thine own self be true,
And it must follow, as the night the day,
Thou canst not then be false to any man.
Farewell, my blessing season this in thee!

In writing, it truly is important to be true to one’s self. Your output is a reflection of your soul. This is absolutely true for fiction writers, too.

There has always been debate about how much of our true selves we inject into our fictional creations. Should we write from our own personal experiences? Can we use Aunt Berta as a character in our next novel, and simply change her name to Bob? Can we write about the time we fell from the fourth story of an apartment complex in our neighbourhood that time we were trying to escape a run-in with the police by jumping from one balcony to another, if we change the names and make it a fifth floor fall?

When I hear the old adage, WRITE WHAT YOU KNOW, I kind of get all sorts of negative feels going on. If one takes it at its word, literally speaking, one might feel the desire to pummel the crap out of that adage for being so utterly and completely WRONG and UNHELPFUL and STUPID. It’s definitely cringe-worthy on so many levels.

I write what I know about through personal experiences, yes. I admit this. My themes are, for the most part, on subjects I feel passionate about as a person. I love to use cornerstones such as family dysfunction, teen angst and depression and mental illness. I have used abuse–sexual, physical and emotional. I have used the bully, the quirky off-beat character who doesn’t quite fit in. These are the areas in which I live, at a core level. I like to drag my characters through the proverbial mud, then give them a little leg up and a slim modicum of hope (I hear English teachers flinching at my use of slim and modicum side by side). I certainly don’t write and rewrite my life story every time I sit down to write a novel. You won’t find me in my work. At the same time, you will DEFINITELY find me in my work. When I write a story, I sometimes feel as though I am sending up emergency flares to my teen self…warning him that he is not alone. That someone sees him. That he is real. That it gets better. So, yes. In this sense, I am writing what I know.

Just don’t tell me not to write about life on a nuclear submarine or the story of a 100-year old Zen monk living in the Himalayas as told through the POV of his pet llama because I don’t know these things well enough to write about them. Don’t do that! Think of that adage in a different light. WRITE WHAT YOU WISH TO KNOW ABOUT. WRITE WHAT YOU WILL KNOW ABOUT AFTER YOU WRITE IT. WRITE ABOUT ANY GODDAMNED THING YOU WANT. Don’t restrict yourself. And don’t restrict other writers by giving them lame-ass advice like WRITE WHAT YOU KNOW. Write what you believe in and allow other writers to do the same. Write what moves you. Write into the darkness of a thing, so that you may shed some light on it.

This brings me to my bastardization of the Shakespeare quote in the title. You will probably have to reread it now, since I tend to ramble so much it kind of drags the reader out into the bush and causes them to become briefly lost. I’ll reiterate here:

TO THINE OWN SELF BE STEW.

You are an accumulation of all of your experiences. And of all the experiences of others which you heard about through stories, news, first or secondhand tellings, etc. You have all of these things living inside you like a chunky manic stew of information and experience. Now, you can gingerly put your hand in and grab out a wad like that cartoon-guy on the Bits & Bites commercial. “You never know what you’re gonna get!” Or, you can dive in from, say, the fourth (or fifth) story of a building in your neighbourhood. Whatever way you choose to enter the stew of your own personal history, you’re gonna come up with a slew of ideas. This is WRITE WHAT YOU KNOW. You’re taking from your core and you’re reforming what you–or someone you know or heard of–experienced, and you’re making it a story. You are the stew. So dive in. Discover those situations you think you forgot about, discover places you have been, or scents you remember. Or feels you survived. Discover all your sub-conscious mind has to offer. These are the things you KNOW. Write from that place. TO THINE OWN SELF BE STEW.

Now, I bet you’re thinking, ‘that was a pretty weak nod to the bard. He merely mentioned Shakespeare in passing!’

Nope. That’s not the nod.

As you probably know by now (as I have been shouting from the rooftops), I have recently signed two book contracts. In one of these two books, BURN BABY, BURN BABY, my main character, Francis Fripp, is a fan of Shakespeare. In one scene he and his potential love interest bat back and forth with Shakespeare quotes, trying to stump one another. It’s me injecting a bit of me into the story. The two characters are clearly madly in love with Shakespeare. That’s one of the fun things we get to do as writers. (-:

Incidentally, that’s not the only nod I gave in that particular story. Francis’s last name is ALSO a nod to an author I love, and one of his characters. Tripp was the last name of the main character in Michael Chabon‘s WONDER BOYS. For Francis, I changed it to Fripp, but the nod is still there. (-:

Check Out My Latest Interview

On the heels of my recent book deals I was invited to be interviewed by writer and poet ROSALIND GUY at her A WRITER’S THOUGHTS blog.

YOU CAN READ THE INTERVIEW HERE.

Much thanks to Rosalind!

Also, my books were temporarily down from Kobo…due to some technical changes that required, I believe, some sort of reformatting on the part of my publisher.

All 3 of my novels are again available at Kobo Books. You can click the image below to be taken to kobobooks. (-: Of course, they’re all also available at Amazon and Barnes & Nobles…and other places where ebooks are sold.

books

I Always Wanted to be a Writer…

Don’t you just love it when you meet people and they ask what you do and you tell them you’re a writer and their reply is, “I always wanted to be a writer too!”

I call bullshit every time. Usually with good results. There’s something about writing, isn’t there. Some people have this misguided misconception that it is somehow noble. The act of writing. In reality, it really isn’t. Talent–both hard fought and natural born–is needed in order for anything to happen with the byproduct of the actual act of writing. You can count on that. But the only thing holding these people back, the ones that say, “I always wanted to be a writer”, is desire. I tell them, “No. You don’t want to be a writer. You’re wrong about that. If you wanted to be a writer, you would sit. You would write.”

Quite often, they don’t know what to do with that response. But there are those special times when I just know I have flicked the switch. And that is about as rewarding as a thing gets. To know that you have somehow, through a series of seemingly innocuous comments, given someone else the permission to do something they have heretofore only dreamed of doing. It’s magic.

There are those who will challenge me. “I don’t have the time.” “I wouldn’t be any good at it.” “I don’t know a verb from a hootenanny.” “The kids, the spouse, the hockey games, work, shoveling the snow…I don’t know where to fit it in.” “I don’t know what to write about.”

I patiently pick apart all the excuses. They listen. They sometimes get defensive, as though I’m breaking down this wall they worked extremely hard to build up. When they’re cornered, the ones who really meant the original comment begin to think, “Well, maybe I should.”

I always think of that ROCKY HORROR PICTURE SHOW song when this happens. You know the one. Frank N. Furter is standing up there on the RKO stage (or is he in the swimming pool?), looking larger than life and twice as nice. You know the song. He begins seductively, “Whatever happened to Fay Wray? That delicate satin draped frame…”

Most of the song absolutely doesn’t apply here. But there’s the part that goes,

CAN’T YOU SEE IT? WHOA OH OH…DON’T DREAM IT—BE-E IT.

That’s the part. If I was a singer, I would belt that line out like nobody’s business every single time somebody said, “I always wanted to be a writer” to me. Alas, I am not. I’ve been banned from singing in most provinces and States. Don’t feel sad for me…if you heard me singing you would understand.

So, if you’re a writer and you get those people entering into your life who always wanted to be a writer…call them on it. Don’t let them get away with it. Eventually, you’re gonna have a great story to tell. A story about the day you kick-started some great and talented wannabe into becoming the writer they always considered being. It’s extremely rewarding to breakdown that wall of WANNABE and pave the way to BE IT. And it just takes a nudge. A nudge and a dream.

Sometimes people just need a little push to prompt them to tackle a dream they assumed was unattainable. I’d rather help someone reach to attain their dream than quash it for them.

When the Feels are Overwhelming

Do you ever feel like your world is shaky at best, and volcanic at worst? Do you sometimes sit there and contemplate the ways of the world and suddenly feel like you’re gonna melt into a million tiny pieces? Do you get overwhelmed by the feels?

My whole life, I’ve cried at emotional commercials. My sides hitch when I read a heartrending story. The first time my emotional world well and truly collapsed into a puddle of MESS was when I watched the ROOTS series on TV. That was 1977. I’ve been crying ever since. And I am extremely unapologetic about it. If you don’t like men who cry, fuck you. If you would rather believe that boys don’t cry, go to hell. There is nothing better than a good cry. It’s as liberating as all hell.

When I’m writing a novel, I love to play those killer songs that get me every single time I hear them. I love feeling emotionally destroyed, and I can put myself there with ease…one or two of those old standby songs and I’m a swamp of FEELS needing deep emotional rescuing.

I like to write in this place of vulnerability. I just have to trust that it’s the music making me feel so deeply. If I’m not careful, I will convince myself that I am actually deeply depressed. Actually, I think it’s an extremely thin line between allowing yourself to feel deep emotional connection to a sad song and falling hopelessly into a trench-of-hell depression. It’s a slippery slope, but SO VERY worth it.

One of my last posts for ALL THE WRITE LINES was one I titled NOSTALGIA AND EMOTIONAL SOUNDTRACKS (OR HOW TO CATCH THE FEELS). In that post I talked about some of the songs that most trigger my vulnerable feelings. THE THE’s PERFECT and AND IF VENICE IS SINKING by THE SPIRIT OF THE WEST. Please click on the link I provided in the blog post’s title to read the post. I’ll wait for you to get back. See you soon! (-:

Now, today I thought I would take out the big guns. You know, for those of you who erroneously believe that BOYS DON’T CRY. The one song that can drag me down to the very bottom of my soul is EVERYBODY HURTS by R.E.M. I seriously have to hide the razorblades while listening to this song. It resonates more than anything else I have ever listened to in my history of music listening.

Sometimes, I’ll listen to this song over and over for hours. It puts me in the mindset I need to be in to write teen-angst. That’s what I like to write. I know I’m in my late 40s. It’s just…I understand being an alien attempting to navigate the high school world. I like to relive it in different ways through my YA characters. In order to do this, get myself down into that place where pain lives, I like to listen to the songs that used to put me there. There is something golden about allowing music to transform you.

IN BETWEEN DAYS by The Cure used to knock me out. In the most delightful way.

“Yesterday I got so old
I felt like I could die
Yesterday I got so old
It made me want to cry
Go on go on
Just walk away
Your choice is made
Go on go on
And disappear
Go on go on
Away from here” ~ In Between Days by The Cure

Fuck. That right there was the mantra of my teen years.

(A little P.S. on The Cure. Their music was able to uplift me every time. A lot of people thought they were mega-depressing, but they were sickly uplifting for me. Even the sad stuff. There was always a smile on my face when listening to them.)

Sometimes, when I really need to plug in to the FEELS, I sit and I listen to the songs I listened to in the 80s. Alone in my room with my shitty turntable. I needed to tape quarters to the needle arm in order for it to work. Three quarters were too many, while two were just enough. One wasn’t enough. Music owns us. It doesn’t matter how old we are. When we hear a song that connects with us on a spiritual level, that makes us go, “YES! THAT’S IT. EXACTLY!” that song will always be with us.

As writers, we get to manipulate ourselves (and our emotions). We can tinker with our emotional landscape until we’re at the exact right ‘place’ we need to be in in order to write a particular scene. I do this by the easiest means available…I listen to music.

Yeah, there’s a lot of talk about SOUNDTRACK OF MY NOVEL. But what you should really be doing is creating an EMOTIONAL SOUNDTRACK to your novel.

By the way, this works just as well tossing out a happy song that makes you smile every time. If you’re writing a happy scene, you can prepare yourself by listening to something that always put a smile on your face. My go to for this emotion was always CAPTAIN SENSIBLE. Boy could make me kick up a smile faster than a rogue car on the Audubon could lose control.

Before you sit down to write, go ahead…manipulate yourself. Have fun with it. You can be the master of your emotional landscape. You might discover that it helps your writing immeasurably.

Happy Writing!

Momentum – The Key to the Happy Writer

Everybody needs it. When you’re a writer, it can be the difference between writing and not writing. I’m talking about momentum, that thing that keeps you going.

 

 

“If I only could, I’d be running up that hill.” ~ Kate Bush

Momentum can be achieved any number of ways. For me, a book sale goes a long way. It’s a form of validation that really helps to keep me putting words on the page. But there are a lot of other things that can happen in my writing life that motivate me to keep runnin’ up that hill. A good review, a newsletter from a writing organization of some kind, booking a writing retreat or conference, communicating with other writers in forums or in person. All these things serve to get me pumped and ready to keep writing.

Once you sit down to add words to your manuscript-or poem-or journal-or article-or grocery list, you’re well and truly in a vacuum. It’s just you…and maybe your characters. This can be daunting. I find it helpful to get out into the larger writing community prior to sitting down. It fortifies me. When I talk about my writing, it feels more alive. It makes me want to jump back into it.

Don’t forget to interact, set goals, treat yourself to writing related outings, etc. And one of the great motivators is the simple act of SUBMITTING YOUR WORK. Do this often. You’re not risking anything if you’re not submitting. To submit is to motivate yourself. And remember, a rejection isn’t totally negative. It’s proof that you are doing something about your writing. You should wear rejections as badges of courage. You put yourself out there. That’s reason enough to celebrate.

There are great opportunities in the writing life to BE THE WALLFLOWER. I would even go so far as to say it’s often NECESSARY for a writer to be a wallflower. Especially during the cultivating stage of your work…when you’re collecting grist for your writing mill. BUT…you can’t always stand back against that wall and be the bystander in your life. It doesn’t get you anywhere. Sometimes you need to take life by the throat. Before you sit down into that vacuum of DOING WRITING, collect yourself some reasons to write. Get excited about writing.

Let review. Ways in which to jump-start your writing and gain the momentum needed to carry on carrying on:

  • SUBMIT
  • ATTEND CONFERENCES & WORKSHOPS
  • REGISTER TO ONLINE WRITING FORUMS & BE AN ACTIVE MEMBER OF SAID FORUM
  • ATTEND SOCIAL GATHERINGS FOR WRITERS IN MEAT-SPACE
  • SUBMIT
  • SIGN UP FOR WRITING ORGANIZATION/WRITING SITE NEWSLETTERS. READ THEM WHEN THEY ARRIVE IN YOUR INBOX
  • CREATE A SAME-TIME-EVERY-DAY SCHEDULED WRITING TIME AND STICK TO IT. WRITE OUTSIDE THIS TIME ALL YOU WANT, BUT CREATE THIS DEDICATED WRITING TIME
  • CELEBRATE YOUR VICTORIES, ATTAINED GOALS, ACHIEVEMENTS, ETC
  • ENTER WRITING CONTESTS
  • JOIN A LOCAL WRITING CIRCLE/ORGANIZATION
  • FIND A BETA READER PARTNER AND SHARE YOUR WORK WITH EACH OTHER (THINK OF THIS AS SIMILAR TO AN AA SPONSOR—CARRY EACH OTHER WHEN NEEDED)

There are all sorts of things you can do once you’re outside that vacuum. Things that will enrich your writing life and cause you believe in yourself more fully. Do them. Anyone can write. The trick is to keep the momentum going. Be excited every day. You don’t have to be sitting and writing to be cultivating your writing life. Think outside the box. Fuel the passion…