Slacker Writers of the World – Don’t Unite. Just STOP Slacking

I have had an odd uncomfortable feeling roiling just under the surface of my consciousness for a while now. I need to own something or I will never work my way past it. I am a lazy writer.

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Meg?

There. I said it.

To be honest, I have probably said it a hundred different ways in various posts on this very blog. But I am so lazy that I can’t even just come out and say something. Beating around the bush is one of my specialties. In fact, it’s probably one of my Super-Powers. Avoidance is the other Super-Power that makes me the particular breed of Superhero of Awesome that I happen to be.

I just recently reached out to a writer I admire (if she’s reading this, she knows that by recently I mean in the last couple of days) for some advice. I asked for her advice because I know she is a diligent, competent, and dedicated writer. I know she can take a FANTASTIC novel and completely rewrite it based on feedback and marketability considerations. I’ve seen her do it. I’ve seen what I thought was a remarkable fantastic amazing incredible book agented and contracted by a publisher—and then, miraculously, dissected and completely rewritten to be something other than the book that was originally written.

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Perhaps, I should first consider a more convenient pose while writing?

In essence, this writer has written 2 great novels…and because she is courageous and UNLAZY, she was able to hunker down and reconstruct her novel.

I, on the other hand, cannot re-imagine my work–because I don’t invest anything into it during my first draft stage. Sometimes, I have to admit, I haven’t really even read my work from cover to cover prior to publication. This is NOT to say it doesn’t go through various editing stages. Every one of my novels have been edited and edited and edited. By me, then by critique groups and friends, then by my agent, then by my publisher. But I don’t REALLY connect with my work the way I should. I don’t KNOW it enough to get into the thick of it and do MAJOR edits–story changes, plot removals and additions. I don’t consider plot…I just WRITE THE STORY.

I am lazy. I should realize that the next level isn’t something I will get to merely because I want to get to it. It’s going to take effort, work…blood, sweat and tears. This is not something I really invested into my work to date. I write like the ending is the goal…just get it out because I don’t like the taste of it and I want the meal to be over. I want to throw the dishes into the dishwasher and be done with it. And move on to the next mediocre meal.

That sounds like I don’t love what I do. But I assure you, it’s not the case. I love writing. I love finding out what happens next. I love discovering. I just don’t know how to put effort into something after I’ve discovered it. I don’t know how to UN-discover a story—and change it to make it a better story.

I asked this writer friend of mine for advice–I’ll call her MEG (oh my god, I’m clever!)–because I knew/know how capable she is of doing the parts of writing that I’ve been failing at. Writing isn’t just WRITING DOWN THE BONES and washing your hands of the efforts. Writing is taking the bones and wrapping them with flesh, rearranging the bones into a prettier body. Meg has done this with glowing results. I wanted to tap into that wisdom. And she was gracious enough to offer advice.

Today, I’m going to try to take that advice…and the advice she didn’t really know she was giving. The BIG PICTURE advice she offered simply by showing me that YOU MUST CONSIDER THE BIG PICTURE. You need to step back from your story and analyze it. Imagine that! I’ve been so remiss. I hope I can somehow turn over a new leaf and start working more diligently. Story isn’t scaffolding. Scaffolding should only be used when you’re working on the facade of the story. You need more finesse than that once you get the structure down pat and begin to work on the interior. The interior needs to shine. And the finished result cannot show the scaffolding. What reader wants to look at your lazy unquestioned unexplored scaffolding when they open your book to read a completely realized story?

I expect more than that. It’s my duty as a writer to deliver more than that.

Thank you, Meg. I knew I could count on you for an honest critique and assessment.

Camino Camino – The Obsession Grows

Good ole Facebook is at it again. It is constantly re-igniting my obsession with the Camino de Santiago that grows inside me every day. This week is the 3rd year anniversary of my Camino journey. Every day I am seeing picture after picture in my Facebook Memories feature. Every day, my longing to be back on THE WAY swells to a new height.

Add in the fact that I know my Camino guide and friend Sue Kenney is currently guiding yet another round of peregrinos on The Way even as I write this, and I have a perfect storm of Camino Desire. I want to walk the entire Camino Frances (The French Way) from Saint Jean Pied de Port to Santiago de Compostela and beyond…yes, all the way to Finisterre. Some days the desire is so strong, I just want to put life on hold, board a plane, land in France and start walking.

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My Camino – May 2014

But the Camino is time. In order to walk The Way, you need well over a month to complete the trek from St. Jean to Finisterre. Perhaps 2. It is not presently in the cards. Retirement? Maybe. One can hope to be able to have the health required to do these things in their golden years. It is, nevertheless, an obsession…and it will continue to be one.

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On this day, three years ago, I cross this monumental milestone on my brief Camino journey from Ponferrada to Camino de Compostela. I walked this leg with my Camino friend Connie

I try to take the journey with me every day. When I go somewhere new, I walk the streets and attempt to see that new place with the eyes of the Camino peregrino living inside me. Every day is an opportunity to walk…every day can be a journey.

Everything points to The Way. It’s a way to live as much as it is a physical path…it’s an exploration of self.

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Along The Way there are always signs…everywhere. Ribbons on trees with messages, sticks on the ground forming words, chalked mantras, notes everywhere. This one from someone named Russell Kenny caught my eye in 2014…

I suppose the intensity of my love for this place will always swell on the anniversary of my journey…thanks to Facebook and its memories. Not a bad thing to recall…not at all. I love you, My Camino. One day, I will walk you again. On that day, this peregrino will be home…

Writing Away…

It is with a heavy heart that I announce my return from Europe. Then again, I’m so glad to be back home with loved ones. What a pickle, traveling is. It’s a strange alternate universe where everything you know drops away as you head for The Great Adventure.

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The Beautiful Grand-Place Town Square in the Heart of Brussels

Just back from Brussels & Brugge, I have fallen in love with yet another foreign country. Belgium is golden. I would recommend it to anyone.

So much of Brussels pulsed with hints and signs of the great pilgrimage of the Camino de Santiago. At times, I just wanted to abandon everything and follow those shells as I followed them across Spain back in 2014. The Camino calls to me every day. It felt like home seeing its signs in Brussels.

Ostensibly, I was there for a self-motivated novel writing marathon, in lieu of attending the 2017 Muskoka Novel Marathon. I had it in my head that I would write a novel while staying in Brussels.

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Manneken Pis – The World Famous statue pissed a continuous stream into the street a mere minute away from my hotel room. If you want a great story, Google Mr. Mannekin Pis’s history. Wow, that baby has had quite the life. He’s a knight, you know!

But one cannot visit a country they have never been to without taking a walk about and seeing all there is to see. I believe in injecting myself into the city streets and walking madly off in all directions. It’s the best way to learn a foreign city and make it yours. Boy, did I do that in Brussels.

Assorted photos of Brussels. My favourite place to eat was Le Grand Cafe on Boulevard Anspach.–and of course I needed to have a Stella IN Belgium! The city workers painted the crosswalks RAINBOW while I was there. BRUSSELS PRIDE is on May 20th. Just missed it. Try the waffles…they are to die for! And Ellis Gourmet Burgers makes the best burgers in the world! I walked to the top of the Arcade du Cinquantenaire…it’s a beautiful view from atop this triple arch in the centre of Cinquantenaire Park.

Just prior to leaving I had received a WCDR (Writers’ Community of Durham Region) Writing Grant, for which I’m extremely grateful. It served as a reminder to put BIC and get some work done while I was there. I used the grant money to purchase passage to Brugge, where I spent the day exploring the beautiful medieval town. And what tour of Brugge would be complete without climbing to the top of the belfry tower there? The tower has been made famous in the phenomenal 2008 movie IN BRUGES. One of the main characters–Ken, played by Brendan Gleeson–jumped from the top of the tower and died on the cobbles below.

The Belfry Tower in Brugge–a steep climb to the top, but well worth it once you see the breathtaking view of the medieval town spread out below it.

Needless to say, I fell in love with everything I saw. Thankfully, I did get a great start on my novel writing project. Nowhere near what I had hoped for, but the bones are still being formed and it has the momentum it needs. I cannot complain about that. It’s a young adult novel, just over a third done…maybe.

Some more sights from Brugge. including shots from inside the Basilica of the Holy Blood, which is a famous church that houses a venerated relic–a vial said to contain the blood of Christ himself–brought back from the Crusades. The 12th century basilica is located in the Burg Square and has both a lower and an upper chapel. The statuary in these chapels were sad almost to the point of ghastly…and so beautiful in their depiction of pain and sadness.

Now, to get my feet back firmly on the ground here in Toronto and settle in to finish this novel. Travel is a wonderful thing, but so is coming home. Being home. Time to write.

The Brussels Novel Writing Experiment

I felt so confident (and dare I say innovative) when I willy-nilly decided, back in January, to randomly choose a European country to travel to–and hide out in–to write a novel during a week in May.

It’s May. I leave for Brussels in two days. The bravado and confidence has left me. As the flight date approaches, I’m getting excited to see the city I chose. I’m also realizing how much I’m going to miss a certain someone when I’m gone. I’m also worried I’m not going to be able to write a novel while I’m gone.

Every year, as the July Muskoka Novel Marathon approaches, I get super nervous that I’m going to come up with nothing during the annual 72hr novel writing marathon in Huntsville. I convince myself ahead of time that I’m going to get there and stare at a blank computer screen and write nothing. In 2016, that’s exactly what I did–more or less–for the first 24 hours. When I was mumbling into a cup of coffee about my despair over not having anything to write about, a writer friend told me to write my story–“but tweak the shit out of it so it doesn’t look quite like yours”. He immediately released an idea in me and that idea flowered into the novel that went on to win BEST ADULT NOVEL at the marathon.

So a part of me knows that the lack of confidence and the fear and the anxiety is part of the shtick. It’s part of who I am. I tell myself over and over and over again that I’m not worthy, that I can’t handle it, that I can’t do it, that I’m incapable, that I’m hopeless, that I’m going to fail, that I CAN’T. But there’s no corresponding rational part of me that points out that this is just part of the shtick. I’m in the head-space, at the moment, that is convinced I will fail at the writing part of this journey. I can’t do it. I will fail.

Don’t get me wrong. I’m still manic-ally looking forward to seeing a new European city. I love travel. I would do it every day if it were a possibility. And to be honest, BRUSSELS wasn’t as randomly chosen as I would like to believe it was. To say I closed my eyes and pointed at a map of Europe and said, “This is where I will go to write a novel” is more romance than reality. I have been smitten by the eventuality of Brussels for some time. And, more pointedly, BRUGES…which I will also be exploring. I can’t wait to see these two places. I’m sure the travel part of this trip will be a smashing success. It’s the writing part I fear. It’s the being-away-from-someone-whose-constant-presence-makes-me-happy part I fear.

I want to do this. The suitcase is relatively packed. The laptop is ready for the journey. The day trips are booked for mid-week—Brussels walking tour on Tuesday and Bruges walking tour on Wednesday (because walking is the only true way to SEE a place–I learned that on the Camino)—I’m imagining sitting in front of the screen for the rest of the trip, tapping away at my keyboard. I’m sending myself anticipatory good vibes. I’m hoping this novel writing experiment is a success. For more than one reason.

(CLICK ON THE PIC/LINK BELOW TO BE TAKEN TO MY AMAZON PAGE TO CHECK OUT MY PUBLISHED NOVELS…)

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My published novels – Summer on Fire, Burn Baby Burn Baby, Half Dead & Fully Broken, The Reasons, Sebastian’s Poet.

I’m sitting here with TWO consecutive novels that didn’t make it to publication. One–a Gay YA issue novel, PRIDE MUST BE A PLACE, about the forming of a gay/straight alliance in a high school–was loved by my agent and read by almost every single major and mid-range publisher in North America. They all rejected it—mostly with glowing compliments regarding the writing, etc…but with the death knell causing reason of it being BEHIND THE TREND. The second novel–a road trip returning home after estrangement because of a death in the family story called I WILL TELL THE NIGHT–was rejected out of the gate, by my agent. As I felt it contained some of my best writing, the rejection threw me for more than a loop. It is making me reevaluate everything at a time when I had previously planned to sit down in a foreign country and write a new novel. I’m on shaky ground here. Not to mention how devastating it was to have PRIDE unanimously rejected by so many (ALL) major publishers.

I suppose I should be honored that they all requested fulls of PRIDE MUST BE A PLACE, and that they all apparently read said fulls. I suppose I should be honored by the rejections that are so complimentary I could frame them and hang them on the wall for inspiration. But I’m not. A writer mostly only hears the NO. Every rejection is a hit. Especially when you have already rejected yourself. When it comes from the publisher/agent, it’s kind of a reassurance of your lack of belief in your ability as a writer. I don’t know if it’s just me, or if it’s a rampant thing in creatives, but I don’t have faith. Well, I do…I have faith in my inability. And yet I keep on keeping on.

So here I am. I’m a soon to be traveler again. I’m looking forward to seeing a new city I dreamed of seeing. I’m feeling really sad about being away from the one I love for an entire week and looking forward to getting back home to be with them. I’m also just a boy, sitting in front of a laptop, asking it to love him. This experiment HAS to work. I neglected to sign up for the MUSKOKA NOVEL MARATHON this year. I wanted to take away the safety net of having a back-up novel writing plan in place for the year 2017. I LIKE writing my novels in (relatively) one sitting. So I narrowed this year’s novel writing journey to ONE PLACE, ONE WEEK, ONE CHANCE. That chance is BRUSSELS.

I’m going to miss you like crazy, Michael. Even though I already know we will be in almost constant communication and I’ll be having fun exploring new places and you’ll be having fun in the wonderful world of Disney, I’m going to miss our everyday everydayness for the coming week.

With all the anxiety of a full grown holler monkey about to jump up and down on a sheet of movie studio glass in the hopes of it not shattering into a million tiny pieces (this is the thing that seems like it would be the most demonstrative example of high-anxiety to me–so please go with it and don’t argue with a crazy person), I am ready to begin my experiment. Please, FRANCIS DE SALES, wherever your heart and mind and soul and spirit may be, please watch over me, a mad and failed writer in a world filled with mad and failed writers, while I’m gone to this place on earth to hole-up in a sub-standard hotel to write the Great North-American Novel ironically nowhere near North-American soil. Please, dear patron saint of writers and journalists, take pity on my misguided experiment. Allow me to, at the very least, find a way to write one word after another word after another word while I’m gone. I need this. I am a fallen scribe who needs something to believe in. Please give me the strength to SIT & WRITE. And, please, GIVE ME SOMETHING TO WRITE ABOUT. Tell me a story, all about a glory…how to begin it? There’s nothing in it…