The Things Writers Do To Themselves – Or, That Day I Didn’t Actually Finish My Manuscript



A motley crew of rebel rousers also known as writers and their friends. Find us at a restaurant near you. But only if you want noisy atmosphere you cannot escape even if you try…

A 3-Day Diary of a Writer Once in Stasis

(Before I proceed, just so we’re all on the same page, the Merriam-Webster definition of stasis— “a state or condition in which things do not change, move, or progress“. So, that is where I stood as a writer prior to July and between July end and September end.)

Day 1 – Saturday, October 22nd, 2016

106 days after coming up with a shadowy wisp of an idea for my 2016 Muskoka Novel Marathon novel, I typed the words THE END on the last page of the manuscript. Then I quietly celebrated the moment by being silent and allowing this icy cold feeling to course through me and send a chill or two up my spine. That feeling was the climbing-out-of-my-skin motion made by the make-believe souls of my characters leaving the body they had possessed while I wrote. And in their absence, as usual, I was left feeling glum. Not good enough. Lonely. Why did they leave me? I didn’t even think the story was finished yet. Even as Finn’s omniscient narrator wrapped up the telling of the story, I wanted to scream, “NO! NOT YET! THEY HAVEN’T DONE THIS! THEY HAVEN’T DONE THAT!” But once the wheels of the bus start to roll, there really is no controlling it. The trajectory is a surprise only the vast nothingness from which the story arrives knows. At least in my case, where I outline and plan exactly NOTHING. Sure, I will have discussions about what I think will happen next, or things that will take place in a vague as-yet-unwritten future of the story. But they don’t always take place. And then, when I type those solemn door-slamming words THE END at the bottom of the manuscript, I know the rest of the story that I envisioned will never take place. And that makes me even sadder than I was when I realized I had hit the end. After the words have been struck and they glow there like doombabies at the bottom of the screen, you know you can’t fight your way past them. But you also get to see the world of your characters stretch out beyond those words of death. THE END. It is never the end. The unwritten scenes that you toyed around with, spoke of, discussed…they’re still there. They are ghosts forever hanging off the precipice of those two little words. They are phantom limbs, unformed digits, un-lived dreams. It’s very painful to be finished your story and still have material leftover in the end that you thought you would use within the confines of the novel. That leftover material is one of the many things writers look at to cultivate their own self-doubt and self-loathing. That material is the vision not perfectly transformed from thought-scape to page. Those leftovers are the scream the writer lets out after the cold icy surge of release as they let their characters escape their bodies. Not good enough. Failed to reach the vision. THE END. I think of this every time I see the slit on the face of Mona Lisa. Her lips could have been raised in the corners ever so slightly to bring her face into a more beatific smile. But Leonardo da Vinci, in his infinite wisdom, had already announced to himself, ‘la fine‘. There was no going back. My THE END stands sentinel over the blank space below it that cannot be filled.


Requisite selfie with Mel. Bad Hombres.

Day 2 – Monday, October 24, 2016

I know I didn’t finish the novel. I wrote THE END, but I didn’t finish it. But you can’t go back. Done bun can’t be undone, as Stephen King once said. C’est la vie. So it is written. I spend day hating self for putting those two words at the end of the manuscript. I print out my manuscript and I am in awe over how big it is as a chunk of printed papers. Like, wow. I did that. I overhear Aves streaming from the heavens…or at least from the mouths of crackpot waste-oids singing heavenly verses in dark alleys somewhere in my general vicinity. There is music…and it is celebrating the awesomeness of my thick pile of pages, written in a frenzy of desperation while hopelessly clinging to one unwritten sentence after the other and attempting to harness them down and get them onto paper before forgetting my train of thought. Bam. The rest of the day, after printing out the manuscript, is spent listening to the knitpicking voice in the back of my head whispering, “YOU’RE NOT DONE. YOU’RE NOT DONE!” I sigh. I hold up my impressively thick pile of paper. I say, “Oh yeah? What do you call this?!” I listen as the voice whispers, “A START.”

Day 3 – Tuesday, October 25, 2016

I woke up with a desperate need to delete those two words at the bottom of my manuscript. I had already sent it out to 3 very generous fellow Muskoka Novel Marathon writers. They are acting as beta readers for me…they will tell me what needs fixing under the hood of my novel prior to me releasing it to the critical eyes of editors/agents. I gave myself leeway for once. I purposefully set my cursor to the end of those two nasty words THE END and then I hit BACKSPACE seven times. That’s ALL IT TOOK. The two words vanished into the ether. It was like a Christmas miracle. And then I proceeded to rearrange a bit of my last chapter, to unclose it. To unend it. To youdidntquitegetthereyouhavetogobackinandfixthis. Then, I proceeded to write the last chapter. So my last chapter became my second last chapter and my chapter that wasn’t on the page but was in my brain became my last chapter. Cue the emergency email to my 3 generous beta readers. Plead forgiveness, explain my folly, send the new second last chapter that used to be my last chapter and the new last chapter. Then go out with said 3 beta readers and the rest of the writing posse I hang with from time to time and attempt to forget about the fact that my ugly baby is inthehandsofothers. Then I BEGIN working on the manuscript I put on hold while racing to finish the Muskoka Novel Marathon novel.



Selfie at Mongolian Grill Restaurant in Whitby, Ontario. Future Canadian literati, and friends…

Lessons Learned?

  • The end doesn’t have to be the end. You can delete those two words and start over at the ending.
  • Clearly, Leonardo knew this. He wanted the smile we see to be the smile she was left with. Whatever, Leo.
  • Friends who will stop everything and beta read for you are amazing friends to have! Remember to return the favour once the opportunity arises.
  • Don’t settle.
  • The Backspace key is your friend. It’s a modern day eraser that allows you to unend things.
  • 300 pages of 8 1/2″ x 11″ paper, stacked one on top of each other, is a goddamned impressive pile of paper when it is filled with words.
  • Stasis does not need to happen. Get your bum in chair and shut the hell up.
  • Mongolian Grill is yummy.
  • Pepsi is better than Coke because it is sweeter. This is also the reason Coke preferrers prefer Coke, because Pepsi is too sweet.
  • Selfie-sticks are handy for capturing a moment, but only if you’re nimble enough not to piss everyone off by taking too much time to capture it spontaneously.
  • Writing makes me happy. And the person I write alongside of also makes me happy.
  • Don’t forget a hat when you’re walking in the October chill, because when you do you’re ears hurt like hell!
  • It’s only the end when you say it’s the end the last time that you say it. Not before.
  • Summer always ends! And it’s not up to us where THE END goes on that season. There are some ends we have no control over. Take advantage of the ones you do have control over. (I’m looking at you, LEO!)

The weekend away was most productive. I wrote several chapters of my Best Novel Award winning novel I WILL TELL THE NIGHT. And this guy helped me at every step of the way. Even if he didn’t wait for me whenever I stopped to take a picture of the beautiful FALL colours.


Take Your Words for a Walk – Live Your Story!

This past Sunday I woke up with a fire in me…a fire that would only be quenched by taking a very long walk through the city that I love.

My motivation? Talk to my characters…or rather, allow my characters to talk to me. I’m finishing up my 2016 Muskoka Novel Marathon novel and I woke up knowing that my main character, Finn Barker, wanted to somehow use Kensington Market as a metaphor.

I didn’t fully understand/comprehend where Finn was going to with his idea, but I was willing to give him some rope. We don’t always know our characters’ motivations, but we should always allow them to have them. We should always listen to their musings.

My mission, should I choose to accept it, was to get us to Kensington Market, shut my mouth and stand amid the chaos and beauty and splendour there and listen. Listen to the music of the market. Listen to the light, and the heartbeat, and the motion. And, most importantly, listen to Finn. It was his idea. I was merely the conduit that would deliver him to the setting of the scene he was envisioning.


Courage My Love has been a staple for wonderful original clothing in Kensington Market since long before I was a punk rocker in the 80s buying clothes there. COURAGE MY LOVE is also the title of a fantastic CanLit Novel by Sarah Dearing (Read it! It’s a beautiful story that I return to often.).

So I jumped out of bed, got myself ready, and drove downtown. As an afterthought, before I set out on foot for the Market from the parking garage at Nathan Phillips Square, I set up a new playlist on Spotify. In it, I had such performers as Charlie Pride, Anne Murray, John Denver, and, Neil Diamond. No, these are not performers I myself listen to. But I knew they played in the background of Finn Barker’s childhood…and I knew intrinsically that he was taking me back in time with this metaphor he was struggling to create. Sometimes writing is the ability to hone a sixth-sense to speak to people who exist only in your head and know what they need/want before they do. The playlist was setting the mood to help Finn formulate his idea.


There is beauty everywhere you look in the Market. It’s the extraordinary eccentric pulse in the heart of an already extraordinary city.

Once I made my pilgrimage to the Market, with ‘the green green grass of home‘, ‘crystal chandelier‘, ‘thank god I’m a country boy‘, and ‘snowbirds‘ blasting through my earbuds, I attempted to get out of Finn’s way and allow him to take over. And boy, did he! Sometimes you just know what’s needed to unlock glimpses into your story. You just know that taking a backseat to the characters is the only way to grab hold of some of the most poignant vivid scenes.


Mona Lisa looks down upon the Market from her lofty place above it, and she smiles.

Before leaving the Market, I had a myriad of images and dialogue swirling about in my head. I knew that Finn had wanted to compare the eccentricities of the Market to himself, to somehow explain to his father that the beauty of the Market was that it was an individual and that its individuality was okay. Finn became passionate about the place when he first arrived in Toronto decades before. He wanted to share that passion with a father who shunned anything that stood out as different.

I had an entire scene play out while I walked the Market. I went up and down the main and side streets, doubled back and did it again, stopped in at the lovely Jimmys for a REAL chai tea latte, browsed through the army/navy, squeezed a fruit or two or three. I did all the things! Because I was Finn Barker falling in love with the place he found to be the home nearest to his heart. I was Finn Barker making note of all the things so that he could share them with his father in an attempt to show the man who he, FINN BARKER, really was. It was exquisite. I left myself behind and walked in my story. Glorious.


Jimmys – a staple for good chai in Kensington Market!

The takeaway here, I suppose, is that, as writers, we should allow ourselves to be crazy. We have so many tools in our toolbox. We should never discount any of them. One of them happens to be a propensity towards eccentricity. Embrace it! If you wake up one day with a notion that you should immerse yourself in place, in people, in time, in what have you, then you should do so. Creativity arrives in a myriad of wonderful and intriguing ways. Whether it be the spark at the beginning of a story that gnaws at you until you pick it up and run with it, or a hint of the perfect denouement lurking on the horizon…do whatever it takes to embrace it. If the occasion calls for it, TURN AND FACE THE STRANGE…


The writing of my 2016 Muskoka Novel Marathon novel I WILL TELL THE NIGHT continues!

Listen Now! The Recordings of My STORYLINES Interview & Play Performance from Hunter’s Bay Radio…

Yesterday, the episode of the radio program STORYLINES, with host CHRISTINE COWLEY, on which I appeared, aired on HUNTER’S BAY RADIO. If you happened to miss that airing, Christine was generous enough to provide me with the tapes…and she has allowed me to use them however I wish to use them. Today, I share them here. In the episode, Christine interviews me briefly, and then the two of us perform my 10-minute play THE SPEECH…with the assistance of narrator Tobin Elliott.

So, here are the tapes. You can listen to them now!


In the interview, there is talk of my books, and other writings…particularly BURN BABY BURN BABY. You can check out my books on my AMAZON page…and order them from bookstores everywhere. Click on the image below to visit my page over on Amazon. You can read each book’s synopsis by clicking on the books on the Amazon page:


Click This Picture to Visit My Books on Amazon!

Much thanks to Christine, for providing me with this wonderful opportunity! Though I didn’t really know what I was doing, I thoroughly enjoyed doing it. I usually write my lines knowing they will come from the mouths of others. It was terrifying and exhilarating to have the tables turned. I’m no actor! It gives one a deeper appreciation of just how difficult it is to deliver lines…couldn’t imagine doing it on the stage!

Thank you, Christine! And thank you Hunter’s Bay Radio. And thank you, Tobin Elliott. And thank you to Driftwood Theatre and their Trafalgar 24 Play Creation Festival, at which THE SPEECH was created!

Ontario Writers’ Conference – A Legacy of Creativity and a Labour of Love…


The Ontario Writers’ Conference Gang Through the Years! – LIsa Craveiro, Deborah Rankine, Barbara Hunt, Sherry Hinman, Rosalyn Cronin, Cynthia Rattey, Sylvia Chiang, Dorothea Helms, Cathy Minz, Collette Yvonne, Lana Cutrara, Sandra Clarke, Janet Kopp Boccone, Jessica Outram, Karen Cole, Kevin Craig, Naomi Mesbur, and, last but not least, Wayson Choy. (missing from the picture, and unable to attend last night, is Anne MacLachlan)

Last night the members of the various Ontario Writers’ Conference planning committees and Boards of Directors assembled in one place to celebrate the legacy that the organization has become. And, of course, we brought our Wayson along for the ride!

We met at the lovely Nice Bistro in Whitby, just north of the four corners. The din in that restaurant was quite staggering, considering it was a closed gathering comprised only of those you see in the swarming selfie animation above. All were excited to see one another and catch up on life in general as well as our various writing lives.

Missing from the collage of selfies above are the hundreds and hundreds of attendees who made the conference the success it was, as well as the amazing array of workshop presenters and speakers and readers the organization has amassed over the years of its existence. Each and every person who moved through the conference served to make it what it was—a thriving nurturing hotbed of creativity inspiration.


When the opportunity for speeches arose, Wayson Choy was soon front and centre. He has always been mesmerized by the vitality of the OWC. Once again, he spoke to the passion involved in assembling such a space for the growth of creativity. He was all gratefulness and grace, as always.

As organic as the conference was, though, it was also a well-oiled machine run flawlessly and with a constant drive and desire of making it better. Attending the Ontario Writers’ Conference had become the must do event of every spring and the reason to leave the house after another long cold Canadian winter. Upon the arrival of the 2016 conference, it was announced that there would be no more conferences. And a collective sigh rose up against this sad news. An event that connected its participants year after year was no longer going to be an impetus to create, and impetus to meet, an impetus to discover an impetus.


OWC – Friends!

Some of the patterns of attendance at the conference throughout the years spoke to its vitality and strength. What I affectionately referred to as the Ottawa Contingent seemed to pick up more writers along the way each year, perfectly demonstrating the they’ll-tell-two-friends-and-they’ll-tell-two-friends-and-so-on-and-so-on phenomenon first acted out in the old Faberge Organics Shampoo commercial. And we also saw workshop presenters become attendees as they looked around themselves at the conference and recognized the value in it.


A Selfie with Wayson.

The jewel in the crown was always the Honorary Patron, our very own Wayson Choy…with the conference from beginning to end. Wayson always delivered inspiration in his talks…an inspiration that would lift attendees’ souls and give them motivation to continue, to accept themselves on their individual paths, and to reach for more. In his caring and nurturing Wayson way, he reached down into the hearts of each of us and said, “It’s okay to write, to be a writer…tell your story.” Everywhere I go, I hear stories of how Wayson touched people who had been present in the audience at an Ontario Writers’ Conference event. He gave himself freely to all those in attendance, with grace and wit and light.



It will be sad not to have this annual meeting of like-minded creative people assembling in celebration of this thing we love. But from the ashes of the fire rises the phoenix. The OWC is not gone…it is merely changing. No, there won’t be a yearly conference like there was in the past. But keep an eye out for announcements. I’m sure they’ll come. The OWC promises more…


Keep your eye on Naomi Mesbur – The Future of the OWC Organization is Coming!