Wednesday, December 23, 2009


Sometimes everything clicks. Yesterday was one of those days. Made a stunning looking veggie lasagna AND a Baileys cheesecake (both tasted pretty good, too!), found new strength at the gym and the writing flowed. Should have bought a lottery ticket while luck was with me.

My novel that has been losing steam got a boost with a new chapter and a plot twist that felt fresh. It has been tempting to toss the work in the growing Abandoned pile, but I’ve slogged on, determined to complete the first draft before going through a slash and burn process during a painful revision stage.

My new approach may be working. I’m limiting myself to an hour or two a day on this project and then switching to another writing task. In theory, the time spent becomes more focused as I don’t let it drag on only to be filled with drivel. On only the third day of Plan B, it worked. Hopefully that creates new momentum.

My new writing project is an original television series pitch, pilot and subsequent script. As I’m polishing three spec scripts for existing TV shows, I’m trying to complete a television writing package with the new series material to show that I can create my own characters, plot points and rhythm. When I get to the point of sending queries and manuscripts out, I’ll be fully stocked with other writing samples if only a prospective producer, showrunner or agent should ask.

Yesterday’s work on some character background development and a rough outline of the pilot episode was going so well I could feel the energy behind the people I was creating. I got so excited I had a step away a couple of times to take in the moment and to retain clarity by calming down.

To end the day, I finally had a chance to skim the morning newspaper and a tiny article popped out, the genesis for a possible future writing project. I read it, clipped it and jotted down some quick notes before filing it away. It’s great to know my Ideas folder continues to gain thickness.

It was a writing heyday, nicely capped by a little R and R, watching the Vancouver Canucks impressively dominate the Nashville Predators.

What a day! Encore, please!

Wednesday, December 9, 2009


The most fun I have writing is drafting spec scripts for existing television series. While I’m not a full-time couch potato, there are always some series that I watch religiously. I get a sense of a show’s timing and the nuances of each character. At that point, writing a teleplay becomes more entertaining than watching an episode.

Twenty years ago, I wrote spec scripts for “Designing Women”, “Mad About You” and “Seinfeld”. I showed some of them to friends and was encouraged when I’d hear them laughing out loud in the other room. (I could never be in the same room as they read. I’d drive myself (and them) mad, scrutinizing every single facial expression. Okay, you say it’s just gas, but do you really mean my writing stinks?) It was a huge step to share the scripts with anyone. But I never took a step that mattered. I never attempted to get them read by anyone in the business.

I’ve now written three spec scripts for current shows: “The Big Bang Theory”, “Being Erica” and “The New Adventures of Old Christine”. I’m proud of each one and I can hear the characters’ voices as I read the lines.

I’m more willing to put my work out there for an agent or a producer to read, but I remain stumped about where to mail the scripts and query letters. I don’t have any links with people in the entertainment industry. And to my knowledge I don’t have a friend whose former next-door neighbor has a third cousin whose boss plays squash with a buddy of the personal assistant of George Clooney. (Sorry, no links even to Kathy Griffin. Or Rob & Amber.)

So I’m at a standstill. Advice anyone?

Monday, November 30, 2009


I crossed the finish line yesterday, but the journey continues.

On November 6, I signed up online to participate in National Novel Writing Month. Each participant strives to write a 50,000-word novel, starting from scratch, in November. I’m now at 53,700 words, but my novel has thousands of words to go before the first draft is complete. Still, NaNoWriMo was a good kick in the pants to stay focused on a single project. The focus was on quantity, not quality, but I did continue to revise as I went. I need to spend some time later this week taking a step back and looking at the big picture. Is this novel compelling enough? (Certainly hope the answer is “yes”.) When I’m locked in the day-to-day writing, it is hard to tell.

If nothing else, participating in NaNoWriMo firmed up my writing routine. I also realize that having short-term goals helps so I will continue to set my own. Sometimes the focus will be on word counts, but I need to set some goals about submitting my work as well. I have about ten projects on the go so now is the time to buckle down, sharpen the endings, work through the revisions and put something other than Christmas cards in the mail. (Oh, but I need to work on those, too!)

Saturday, November 21, 2009

Reaching for the Bar

A writing routine is imperative, but every so often you've got to shake things up. That's why I signed up to participate in National Novel Writing Month. Somewhere in the virtual world, I'm part of a massive group of writers striving to write a 50,000-word novel in November. Nothing will happen, in and of itself, it I reach that mark and nothing will happen if I don't. It's an artificial milestone. Still, I update my word count each day and take a gander at the updated bar graph to show my progress. Part of me finds it a hokey gimmick, but the part of me that's trouncing on that half-empty inner voice feels it's a motivator that only comes along once a year. Since I started on November 6th, I was 8,300 words in the hole at the outset, based on the daily goals shown in the bar graph. I like that. It gives me an extra push. I should be finally caught up by Monday as I'm working through the weekend. And I might squeak by the finish line by the 29th.

Participating in NaNoWriMo, I get emails with pep talks and notices about sites in Vancouver where people can congregate for communal writing. (Might try that next year.) Today I came across a suggestion that intrigues me: set a 10K day. As I typically write 2,500-3,000 words on a good day, 10,000 would feel like a marathon. But the 10K running lingo is yet another novelty to add some spark to the routine.

I'll wait until I get through my one-month novel to get it a try. Like I said, those bar graphs are giving me all the kindling I need for now.

Friday, November 13, 2009


There are days that challenge us. For me, this is one of them.

I’d stayed up late last night, cramming in a nighttime writing session after having to halt my productive late afternoon write to meet up with some friends I haven’t seen since I began my road trip back in August. Dinner became one of those lovely drawn out occasions, followed by another meeting fifteen minutes down the road at Starbucks. (In some respects, I was relieved to know that the franchise closes at 9 p.m. in sleepy Gibsons, giving me time to head home with enough caffeine-infused energy to finish my day’s quota of writing.) I didn’t start reading the morning paper until after midnight.

I awoke to the blare of a ferry horn, a dog barking and a blast of broad daylight. The sun, which had packed up and gone for a weeklong exclusive European tour, was back. Welcome, for sure, but not as my morning greeting. I usually get up to see the dawn and get cracking with my daily regimen. I glanced at my alarm clock. It was still sleeping, lights out.

Power outage season had arrived! (It’s called winter in the rest of Canada.) Anytime the winds pick up, there’s a risk of losing power in my rural community. The ferry’s cry told me it was already 8:30. I scrambled to get up, walk the dogs, shower and dress, ever hopeful that the power would be restored at any minute.

Nothing doing. The pot of coffee, such an integral part of my start, sat idle. I considered using a pen and my writing journal to begin my work for the day, but I realized I have now switched to using the laptop exclusively—apart from a few urgent brainstorming sessions. And, unfortunately, my laptop battery has the juice to keeps things cranked for a paltry two minutes max when not plugged in (to a working outlet).

I headed into town. The first coffee shop was packed and, worse, the outlets were already taken by other laptop dependent, power outage survivors. I headed for Lower Gibsons, the quainter, quieter part of town, and lucked upon a table with an outlet at my favorite café in that area. The cup of coffee did not fully supplant the pot of coffee (which, rest assured, is a 40/60 blend of caf/decaf), but it activated enough of my brain to begin the day’s writing.

Already off to a late start, I had to interrupt things for a vet appointment and my midday swim workout. I dashed home, relieved to find the power restored. I booted up the laptop and heated up a can of soup for a quick lunch. Just before resuming writing, I opened the refrigerator to grab a drink. The light in the fridge was out. Power outage #2. (I hadn’t noticed the faint whistling of the trees.) I reported the outage to B.C. Hydro and was given an estimated three-hour window for the power to come back on.

So here I am writing away at the library in town. I have been inconvenienced today, but I have trudged on! Sometimes all the real power you need is the power within.

Thursday, November 12, 2009


I’m five days into my new novel—six, if you count Saturday, my day off—and I’m finding the journey to be tricky on an emotional level.

I’ve decided to write what I call a What If memoir. The story is grounded in my real life, but picks up at a point where there was a fork in the road and, much to the chagrin of Robert Frost, I took the path more traveled. Yes, Robert, that too has made all the difference.

Twenty years ago, I’d gone to Malibu, California to enter law school. From the outset, I wasn’t certain that becoming an attorney was really my life’s path, but I had a full scholarship and it was in Malibu. Hey, things could be a lot worse for a twenty-four-year-old who still hadn’t a clue about what he wanted to be when he grew up.

Truth is, I did have a clue. I just never dared share it. Silly dreams are cute when you’re seven. I want to be an NHL hockey player. I want to become an Osmond. I want to be an elf. (Two out of three of those were my childhood aspirations. Too embarrassed to confess outright, I’ll just say that I’ve never had an interest in the Mormon Tabernacle Choir. Or Utah.)

My impractical grownup dream was to become a writer. Specifically, I wanted to write for television and movies. I’d written my first screenplay shortly after undergrad and I studied dialog and plot from television shows the same way I devoured college texts two weeks before finals.

But I wasn’t a Coppola, I didn’t have an uncle who had a friend whose third cousin went to high school with Ron Howard’s dry cleaner and I didn’t have the dashing good looks of Ben Affleck and Matt Damon. I didn’t have an in. I could write the next “Annie Hall” (or the next “Police Academy”) and never get my break.

I was raised to be practical. Abandoning one career (as a teacher) was only acceptable because I was pursuing a more highly esteemed career as a lawyer. (What’s wrong with that statement?!) I think subconsciously I headed for Malibu to pursue my writing dream or, at least for starters, experience a little Hollywood immersion.

My first year of law school was grueling—at least that’s what all of us pampered law students believed and, if everyone said it, it had to be true. Sure, I studied a lot, but some of that time was spent reading my casebooks at the beach. (Never could shake all the sand out of them!) And there was still time for plenty of dinners at trendy restaurants where we shared ample amounts of wine and whine.

I enjoyed studying law. I had a couple study partners who were exceptionally driven to succeed and I don’t think they rubbed off on me; frankly, I was just a like-minded individual. Yet, when the first year of law school concluded and my grades were ridiculously high, I knew I didn’t want to be a lawyer. I knew the best thing for me would be to quit and pursue something that might become a possibility.

I met with an official from the law school and she talked me into staying, promising that I’d have so many other career opportunities once I earned my law degree. I didn’t buy it, but not knowing what to do instead, I stayed on. I did increase my course load so that I graduated a semester early. It was a consolation to myself, the law school fraud.

What if I’d quit? What if I’d pursued writing (and waiting tables or selling knockoff handbags on Venice Beach or whatever was required to pay the rent)?

That’s where my novel begins. What makes it so emotional draining is I have to dwell on that moment in time. And everything before that key moment provides context to everything thereafter so I find myself recalling so many experiences with so many friends that I cannot find on Facebook or through Google search channels. (Trust me, I’ve been trying a lot over the past week!)

I seem to honor these dear people as I write, but any regrets I have are not about my law school decision; rather, they’re focused on losing touch with remarkable people who continue to impact me two decades later.

My nostalgic trip isn’t all heavy. There’s a backdrop of movies, television and songs of the time. As I write, I pop in cassettes by Mariah (back when she just dressed badly, not trashy), Simply Red and Wilson Phillips. I’ve YouTubed Cathy Dennis and Milli Vanilli and Wikipedia-ed “L.A. Law” and “Ghost”. I’ve almost been tempted to run out and rent “Rocky V”. Almost.

Good times. Why does it take hindsight to realize how good?

Monday, November 9, 2009


One of my favorite musical groups is Chicago. Still. I particularly love their heavily orchestrated songs of the ’70s. (But then, my friends would point out I love everything of the ’70s which I contend is not true. Never much liked “Baretta”.)

Back to Chicago. I was listening to a greatest hits compilation the other day while taking a writing break and picking up all the things on the floor that I’d managed to ignore for a week or so. On came “Does Anybody Really Know What Time It Is?” and, for the first time, I wondered why a guy who professes to not care about such things happens to be wearing a watch. Just one of those Things that Make You Go Hmmmm…. (which, let me point out, just so happens to be a ’90s expression).

I wish I could be as flippant about time as the singer claims to be. Fact is, time matters. Especially when it comes to my writing. I have the savings to permit one year off my day job—and that’s a stretch. Thus, I have to make the most of it and get as much solid writing done as possible. That’s why I’m keeping to a schedule of writing six days a week. Normally I hate schedules, but I can’t afford to amble through my twelve months like a loopy flower child. (After all, that’s the ’60s, an amazing decade, but come on! One can only retreat so far in one’s imaginary time capsule.)

Six days a week. No time off for holidays. I began by “pushing myself” to aspire to three hours of actual writing time each day. That doesn’t sound like much but, in the beginning, it was hard to achieve. I’m not the kind of writer who can sit and just write for the sake of writing, content in knowing that a good chunk will end up crumpled in a virtual trash can. Sure, I go through significant revisions, but none of this starting over that I hear other writers talking about.

Three hours a day became three and a half after I read an article about Stephen King’s writing habits. If 3.5 works for King, it’ll work for me. After awhile, I came to the harsh, but obvious realization that I am no Stephen King. I upped my time to four hours daily. And it’s working!

While I have to be conscious of time, the luxury I do have is flexibility in my day. If I get distracted or delay my morning start, I don’t need to beat myself up over it. I just have to fit in the time at some point before I turn in for the night. Yes, I’ve had one session that ran past midnight which is technically into a new day, but 230 minutes is not enough.

I realize that my four-hour allotment is the kind of artificiality that Chicago sings about, but one cannot take even the greatest bands too much to heart. I hate to point it out, but this is the group that also released the dreadful “If She Would Have Been Faithful”. But, hey, that was the ’80s when dreadful was in.

Friday, November 6, 2009


I just signed up to participate in National Novel Writing Month. The designated month happens to be November and I'm six days behind, but that seems like a typical place to start.

Participants have the calendar month to produce a novel comprised of 50,000 words (175 pages) or more. There are no fees or prizes. The entire emphasis is on quantity, not quality. It's about getting it done, with potential motivation from being a part of an online community endeavoring to do the same thing.

I quickly wrote a 500-word foreword for my novel and my personal account at NaNoWriMo created a bar graph showing my word count and my word goals per day. I'm supposed to be at 10,000 words. At first, I couldn't detect the yellow bar representing my word status. I had to view at 150%. Again, typical.

I am undeterred.

Obviously, this project must mean more than obsessing over word counts. Signing up provides a virtual whip to ensure that I am indeed writing. While that has not been a problem for, I have been bouncing around from project to project. Today I have a new novel idea and it will be my primary focus--at least until the end of November.

Must write more!

Wednesday, November 4, 2009


I finished another spec script today, this time for a Canadian television series, "Being Erica". And I have a rough sketch for another script to start tomorrow. All of this in an attempt to get an agent--or someone!--to read my work. I am told that if someone finally reads a script and likes it, that person will want to immediately see something else. Gotta make sure you're not a one-shot wonder. Hence, the portfolio that I'm creating.

As with "Big Bang Theory", writing a script for "Being Erica" was immensely enjoyable and, upon finishing, incredibly satisfying. The whole tone of the writing was different as "Erica" is a drama involving time travel, flashbacks and quirky quotes from a mysterious therapist. I became hooked on the show over the summer, based on a recommendation from my cousin. I caught the first season reruns that followed and I went back and watched some some of the early episodes online to ensure I had a firm grasp of the show's premise and its structure. The "research" was worth it. While writing, I could hear the characters' voices. I also tweaked the plot based on comments and experiences from prior episodes.

For my next script, I'm developing an idea reminiscent of something I wrote years ago. I decided to review that piece of writing, but I could not recall where I'd stored it. I went down to the basement and dug through boxes of things I cannot defend keeping. Then, in an old briefcase, I found not what I was searching for, but something I had to stop and read. It was an article I'd cut out from The Dallas Morning News, the date: March 16, 1988. Title: "Making it as a screenwriter". Twenty-one years ago I dreamed of becoming a writer. The date and title alone reminded me how important this year is for me. So many years of dreaming and so little time to fully focus on writing. I did write--sporadically--and I did finish scripts that I liked, but I dared not show them to anyone.

It takes a risk like this, going without a regular source of income, to force me to be open about my writing and to do whatever is necessary to get it out there. As my bank account dwindles, I couldn't be happier with my decision.

That old script I was searching for? Turned out it wasn't in the basement at all. I found it in the filing cabinet in my office, in the third drawer, the place where I had looked in the first place. Somehow it hid between other files during my first inspection. While I'd set out to find a teleplay, the yellowed newspaper clipping was the true find.

Fortuitous, don't you think?

Wednesday, October 28, 2009


I'm a pop culture junkie. In particular, I've always loved television. Since I was a child, I've wanted to be involved in the television industry.

Now that I am fully focused on writing, one line of development involves creating a few spec scripts for television shows. Spec scripts are done completely on speculation--hence, the name. There isn't a producer or showrunner asking me to write for a particular series. I'm writing on my own initiative. The idea behind spec writing is that, if it gets in the right hands AND it generates interest, the writer could land an agent or a specific assignment. (Rarely is a spec script purchased and produced.)

Reading about the entertainment biz, I've come across many experts who think writing spec scripts is a waste of time. Others aren't quite so negative, but they're not exactly encouraging either. Still, I know the process is important for me. I can concentrate on dialogue, plots, format and structure while working with established characters.

While at the cottage, I began writing an episode of "The Big Bang Theory". I love the show, the distinct characters and the fast-paced dialogue. What began as a stereotypical, but amusing sitcom about nerds and a hot chick has evolved into often hilarious entertainment, the kind of viewing I welcome on Monday evenings. Since three of the characters are physicists and one was an engineer, there was a fair amount of research required to make the banter between them funny and authentic. I also had to do my homework on "Star Trek", "Battlestar Galactica", iPhone apps, videogames and comic books.

This week I returned to my draft, did a great deal of revising and completed a script for which I feel satisfied. I got goosebumps reading through the scenes because I could hear the actors' voices and see the script being played out. I'll wait a week and then go back to see if another round of revisions is warranted, but the writing feels complete and I'm thrilled with it. The process was a genuine pleasure.

Now I've got to begin a new spec script or return to one of my other writing projects. It feels great to finish something, but there is always more to do!

Monday, October 26, 2009


I spent the weekend in a class, sitting beside a bird. Although the bird only made it through the first day, I remained—get ready to groan—unflappable and hung in there for Day Two, a sixteen-year-old boy my new seating partner. More on the bird and the kid later.

I’m skeptical of touring workshops that purport to teach you how to write a novel, how to get your book published or how to succeed as a screenwriter.

And if I’m skeptical of the workshops and the presenters, I’m even more judgmental about the people who attend. These are the wannabes. The ones searching for a magic formula.

Why do I think that? As an educator, I’ve attended plenty of professional development workshops. While a few were complete wastes of time, the majority provided me with insight and strategies that improved, or at least informed, my teaching practice. Other perspectives made me evaluate my own.

However, I’ve got it in my head that writing is an art, a delicate talent that must be developed from within. Nothing wrong with that. My resistance to workshops about writing comes from arrogance. Yikes, I don’t think I’ve ever described any part of myself that way. Meek, humble, sure. Arrogant?! But that’s what it comes down to. It’s a you-can’t-teach-me-anything-because-I’ve-got-it-all-in-me-somewhere (maybe hiding under my pinky fingernail) stance.

Rubbish! Good thing I ignored that kind of thinking and impulsively signed up for a two-day course on the film business. I noticed a full page ad in Script magazine, signed up online and then spent a few days regretting the decision. (It wasn’t all arrogance. With no income at the moment, charging $400 bucks brought on dizziness and nausea—basically, a starving artist’s hangover.) Despite my hang-ups, I’d enrolled and I was too cheap to back out, knowing some guy could enjoy a steak dinner with my hefty cancellation fee while I spiced up my oatmeal. Ooh, nutmeg!

With cautious optimism—funny how I can temporarily quell doubt when I’ve poured money into something—, I spent the weekend immersed in Dov Simens’ 2-Day Film School. I slept on a friend’s (too short) sofa in Vancouver so I could arrive feeling refreshed for both days of the conference. Sleep is a broad term in this context. It was more tossing and turning and listening to snores break the sound barriers from the other room. (I suspect that my friend may be the primary reason there are a dozen coffee shops within a three-block radius of his apartment.)

The workshops ran from 9-6 on Saturday and Sunday. Breaks were few—and short. I’d proactively flung a bottle of Tylenol in my backpack, but didn’t need to dig it out. There was a lot to learn.

Dov Simens is one of those speakers who flaunts his ego. He yells, swears, comes off as an a-hole. He lets us know he’s wildly successful. (“My wife and I are living off the bonds from our bonds.”) Money is sexy. Then he inserts an tender anecdote about loving his wife or asserts that he will give all of the profits from his next mega, sure-fire project to the people of Darfur. Just enough sweet to counter the schmuck. He’s built his persona. Most of the people in the room were captivated. I spent much of the time viewing him as a character study and watching his students’ reactions. That alone justified the course fee.

This is the morning after and I’ve got much to review from my notes. I gained a clearer picture of the film business and screenwriting’s place within it. He gave me another perspective on screenwriting and trying the get your work read. Much of what he said about writing conflicts with much of what I’ve read—everyone seems to have a different take—but that’s a good thing. I now have more to think about.

So,…back to the bird and the boy. What was a bird—a blue-and-yellow macaw, I believe—doing in a crash course on show biz? Trying to get noticed? If so, mission accomplished. Saturday morning, I staked out my spot in the back row with no one sitting on either side of me. By the time the class commenced, the lecture hall filled to near capacity. Still, a space remained on my right. A little extra room to stretch out! Then, at 9:40, a gentleman appeared with an animal crate and, of course, he chose the vacancy beside me. I love animals and the bird looked cute in the cage. However, within five minutes, flapping began, just inches from my head. Yep, Polly was on her perch, on her master’s left shoulder.

To be fair, Polly—not her real name—was well-behaved for the most part. But the flaps, and faint clucking noises did not come with predictability. I found myself tense—remember, lack of sleep may have played a part—and distracted. At the first break, a full three hours in, I moved down a row, spending the rest of the weekend beside Doogie Director.

There were moments that I felt like the lawyer in that new TV sitcom, “Community”, who faces loopy profs and odd classmates when ordered back to community college. That was a good thing, color commentary to keep me alert and inquisitive. And the play-by-play analysis, the substantive part of the course, turned out to be something I’m glad I didn’t turn my nose up to. I’ve still got that credit card charge to fret about, but that’s six weeks away.

Tuesday, October 20, 2009


I'm home! I did the 4,500-kilometer trip in three days--a record. The first night took me to the Lake Superior area of Ontario with lots of tiny, dingy motels. I could have stopped at one, but I pulled over at a car lot in Nipigon. (If I'm sleeping in the car, car lots are great because I don't stand out when I'm surrounded by other vehicles.) Well, it was very cold so I got back on the road after two hours and drove through the night, remaining vigilant for moose and other wildlife. (“Moose on the Loose” at “Moose at Night” signs pop up every five minutes on the route and I drove under the speed limit, ready to brake or swerve should a critter appear.)

For the second night, I was in the middle of Saskatchewan and stopped in three towns, looking for a cheap motel. The first town had the most disgusting looking hotel I've ever seen--worse than The Patricia on Hastings in Vancouver’s skid row area, a hotel an L.A. travel agent unwittingly booked me into during my first visit to the city. There was no room at the inn at the next two stops. I parked in an auto body lot, spitting distance from an incredibly active nighttime railroad track, and tossed and turned from 9 p.m. until 5 a.m. when my dog Lincoln decided it was time to throw up. (I learned from the trip to the cottage and got him out of the car on time.) At some point in my "sleep", I mysteriously managed to break a middle toe which swelled up. Plenty awake, I washed my hair using a water bottle and hit the road again.

That's when I realized I had a shot of making it home in a three-day marathon. I was a crazed driver! Construction work in Calgary--at both ends!--and around Banff put me on edge--the dogs might say over the edge--and getting stuck behind camper vehicles for long stretches through the Rockies made matters worse. I had given myself a couple of hours leeway to catch the final ferry home (9:15), but that time seemed to be ticking away.

Thank goodness for the Coquihalla Highway which runs for nearly two hundred kilometers between Kamloops and Hope, B.C.! It is like a raceway. Cars whizzed past me when I was doing 130 (or more). Bring on more of our own Autobahns!

Despite my fretting, I realized I had a (remote) shot of making the 7:25 sailing. Drawing on my newly acquired race driver experience, I zigzagged through traffic as I neared Vancouver and got to the terminal three minutes before the cutoff. What a bonus to arrive home a day early!

I am feeling surprisingly alert today and the dogs are relieved to be home, reacquainting themselves with their favorite lounging spots. My butt feels bruised from such long periods of sitting and I have officially ruled out truck driver as my next career. Now I have nothing left to fall back on if I can’t make it as a writer. I have no choice but to write!

Monday, October 19, 2009


I recently wrote about my writing schedule being out of whack due to relatives sharing the cottage space with me. I could have—and five years ago, would have—used that as an excuse to set the writing aside. I am not the only aspiring writer who tends to embrace the excuse.

I would have three novels out this year, but the dogs need lots of walks.

I can never get to my screenplay because there is so much laundry to do. And dusting!

I have the greatest ideas for a series of essays—if only I had there weren’t construction going on next door.

I have eliminated my Number One Excuse, my day job. That also severely cuts the cash flow. Thus, I cannot afford to allow excuses to stifle my writing. Each excuse is a problem that must—must!—be solved. It is the starting point in what separates wishful writers from successful writers.

I am proud to note that I worked through the problem of sharing my living/working space for a few weeks. I found other places to write, going to a few local cafés more regularly, staying longer at the library and working in the cramped back bedroom with the door shut. Not every work setting has to be inspiring. Sometimes all the inspiration must come from within. (Fear of a life of poverty adds some kick as well.)

This is a turning point in my writing. I will face obstacles many times as I continue to pursue writing. I know I can—and will—overcome them.

Thursday, October 15, 2009


With a few stalls along the way, I have spent the past two months steadily plugging away on a novel for adult readers. I’m in the middle of the story and I seem to be stuck. It is not cause for panic or despair yet. Concern? Sure.

I love reading interviews and attending author readings to learn about their writing process. What I have learned is there is not a right way to write—although some authors give me the impression that they are so married to their chosen process that they feel it is only way, not just for themselves but for others.

Maybe it’s because I’m a tangential thinker with adult-onset Attention Deficit Disorder, but I believe the process has to feel organic to the writer and to his or her particular project. Process can change—sometimes must change due to unexpected factors—along the way. Often (note, not always) when I write, the characters come first. Then a problem comes to mind and I jump into writing the first draft. When I try to be more disciplined and outline the story, I often feel the energy drying up. For me, the journey is led by the characters and changes course from my initial, loosely conceived vision.

The genesis of this project came during my four-day drive across the Canadian Prairies and Northern Ontario. I kept my microcassette player on the dashboard and recorded the flurry of ideas as they came. It was an exciting process that fit my circumstance and I couldn’t wait to sort through the ideas once I could sit down at the cottage and open up my laptop. Not all the ideas were great; after all, I forwent hotels and “slept” in the car. Catnapped might be a better term.

For this novel, I even knew the ending and the basic story progression before I began. I thought I was ahead of the game and would skirt any of my typical feelings that the story was dragging in the middling section. Alas. Despite a little more forethought in planning, I am in familiar, unpleasant territory where I am trying to regain story momentum. I think this is the point where some authors abandon a project or shelve it for years.

Wednesday, October 14, 2009


When you’re writing full-time, people tend to think you are always available. Granted, I have more flexibility than most workers, but the work still has to get done. If I don’t write, the opportunities for payment do not come.

I have relatives staying with me for three weeks. Or maybe I’m staying with them. It’s a family cottage—no reservations, no exclusive bookings. That’s the way it should be. However, the whole writing routine is out of whack. I hadn’t realized how critical that first chunk of writing is each morning. I had gotten into a routine of starting a pot of coffee, letting it brew while I walked the dogs and then sitting down at the dining table to begin the day’s work as I periodically glanced at the peaceful river view. While it was an hour of writing at most, it set the tone for the day.

My start is delayed now as breakfast television takes over the main living quarters. I try to write in my tiny bedroom, but looking at wood paneling is not as inspiring as the river, lined with trees in the midst of a color makeover. And “Today” blares through the thin walls. (One of my relatives is hard of hearing.) I have asked myself why background noise at home is distracting while din in a café makes writing feel less solitary and I suspect it comes down to expectations. In a home environment, I expect to have some control over sources of noise; when I venture into a public venue for writing, I know I won’t be alone and the people and bits of their conversation may actually lead to a writing spark.

By the time I have my shower, leave the cottage and drive to a more focused writing site, two hours have ticked by. Often, that is when the writing for the day starts. I never seem to catch up.

One more week to go. In the meantime, I’m trying to shorten the morning delay and fitting in extra writing after 11 p.m. The office, it seems, is never closed.

Tuesday, October 13, 2009


I submitted a cover letter, writing sample and synopsis of my short story collection about two months ago to my publisher of choice. Since I hadn’t heard anything, I assumed a rejection letter would be waiting for me when I retrieved my mail upon returning to British Columbia. Last night, however, I checked my emails and there was one from the editor with whom I worked on my first novel, Fouling Out. She apologized for the delay in contacting me and noted that the publisher has never published a collection of short stories for tweens and teens. (Indeed, it is hard to find any publisher that with that kind of book. The closest I can find is the Chicken Soup for the Soul books that appeal girls. Nothing for boys.) The brief email went on to say that the editor loved the title and would like to read the entire collection.

This news does not guarantee a green light for getting the short stories published, but it is exciting to know that the possibility remains alive for a riskier (read, not market tested) project. As I am flitting about in developing several other works at present, the news provided an instant spark to keep going. Feedback for a writer is infrequent, particularly for someone like me who does not share any work in progress with anyone. Any spark of interest helps reignite the belief that I am on the right track and that a writing career remains a legitimate dream.

Monday, October 12, 2009


It took an hour to drive to downtown Ottawa before traipsing into the city’s main library branch and settling into a well used study carrel, one that could stand a thorough scrub down. What amazes me about libraries is that, no matter how big and how many seating areas, they always feel near capacity. Libraries welcome everyone and create a wonderful ambiance for building characters for a current or future writing piece.

As I searched for a carrel with an electrical outlet for my laptop, I came across a twentysomething Arab fellow on the stretching on the floor between bookshelves. That was a first! He later walked by, supporting himself with a cane. In the carrel on my left was a teenaged girl frantically scribbling notes in green ink into a spiral notebook. Apparently, my unpacking my writing gear was louder than she could tolerate; she departed within five minutes of my arrival. To my right is an elderly Japanese man who began shuffling through a plastic bag as soon as he sat down. As he set down a flattened cereal box, I thought he was settling in for a peaceful lunch, but he pulled out a dozen tiny sharpened pencils, opened a book about Central America and began copying the text onto a small notepad. There’s a story there.

I am in the middle of a wall-lined row of eighteen carrels. Two-thirds are occupied. It is a fairly accurate slice of the city’s demographics in terms of gender, age, ethnicity and, from initial appearances, income levels. I can’t get this at the cottage or at my rural home in British Columbia. Although all is relatively quiet as I work, I feel fully immersed within society.

Thursday, October 8, 2009


If I spent as much time writing as I did seeking the perfect venue for writing, I might have finished Parts II-V of the War and Peace sequel series by now. An exaggeration? Maybe not. I am the guy who drove 4,600 kilometers for a change of scenery.

I have staked out a few areas in the Ottawa Valley that allow me to settle quickly into an hour or two of writing. (The undiagnosed ADHD means that I have to move on to the next site…after a lengthy break.) My most frequent nook is a study carrel in the Arnprior Library. Laptop users vie for one of four key spots and sometimes I arrive too late, having to settle for plugging my laptop in and winding the cord strategically to allow me to sit in a chair between book stacks. It’s all good, except for a few recent visits when the air conditioning continued to blast cool air despite the passing of the recent heat wave. For a town of 7,500, the library was open long hours in the summer. Unfortunately, this week is the start of its regular, reduced hours with the facility not opening until noon.

There’s a quaint coffee and scone shop in the historic downtown section of Arnprior that I’ve recently added to my list. It has exactly what I need: plenty of electrical outlets, strong black coffee and just enough comings and goings to offer a bit of people watching. It is never so crowded that I feel I have to give up my prime table. Bad for business, but good for writing.

Yesterday, I ventured to Renfrew, a larger town of 8,000, to test out its library. The building is old and seating space is limited. I managed to get an hour and a half of work done, typing away in one of four comfy chairs in the Reading Room. I doubt I’ll make a repeat visit as I can imagine times when no space is available.

This morning, as I await the later opening of the Arnprior Library, I’ve taken my laptop outdoors, sitting on the cottage deck. The gentle lapping of the river water provides a calming background acoustic. My dogs, Lincoln and Hoover, dash about on the beach and behind the cottage. As it’s early September, the kids have all gone back to school and most of the cottages are vacant on weekdays so I don’t have to block off all possible exits from the deck in an effort to contain the dogs. They are happy and I am feeling productive. The only thing that could ruin this perfect little writing moment is Hoover reappearing, covered in burs and smelling like he found a dead fish to roll in. It’s happened before and he hasn’t sped across the deck in awhile.

I’m thinking it’s time for an unscheduled writing break.

Wednesday, September 16, 2009


From August 31, 2009:
As a school principal, this would be my first official day back at work. Or maybe there was a compulsory first aid training course last Friday. In either case, I’m a no-show. This writing gig is for real, the summertime pastime officially evolving into a serious writing stint.

I’ve known that the next two weeks would feel awkward. With students heading back to school and the educational traditions of September featured in television and print news, driving across the country couldn’t completely suppress What I’m Not Doing This Year. It also happens to be the end of the month and the final day of my first block of a tightly set personal budget. As frugal as I’ve been (Mmm, oatmeal!), I think I went over by about fifty bucks. Things will only get tougher with costly winter heating bills to come.

I will experience highs and lows during my sabbatical and I’m hoping this is one of the lows. (I don’t want to go lower!) All my writing is on spec. There is no guarantee that anyone will express the slightest interest in any of it. Periods of self-doubt are inevitable.

Can self-doubt actually be a good thing for a writer? I remember listening to author Mem Fox speak at a regional International Reading Association convention in Calgary five years ago. She said that, for writing to matter, it must come from a place of hope and fear. Basically, hope and fear represent the two ends on the caring spectrum. Both can be channeled to improve one’s craft. If I only experienced hope, I might not have spent the morning closely scrutinizing and reworking a funeral scene I drafted last week. Hope alone can lead to complacency and a lack of sometimes brutal reflection.

I took heart in watching Julie & Julia yesterday. Both characters were hoping to get published as writers and both experienced plenty of fear and self-doubt. It’s an uncomfortable feeling that I don’t want to get stuck on, but it’s a healthy mindset if processed positively.

While teachers and students deal with their back-to-school jitters, I have my own to juggle. Things are the same, but different.

Thursday, September 10, 2009


Slow getting going this morning. Had another exhausting sleep. I was madly editing a manuscript in my dreams all night. It was a simple premise that kept repeating itself all night. That manuscript must have been five hundred pages! Apparently I had submitted it to a publisher and then an editor returned it, demanding that I get rid of every the in the work.

With word processing, that should be an easy task. Simply type the in the Find option and then contemplate what kind of change is needed so the sentence doesn’t go Tarzan. (I like to swing on [ ]vine. I feel stronger than all of [ ] monkeys.) Of course, in a dream word processing options don’t come to mind. I had to sift through every page and search line by line to detect each occurrence of the offending word.

This utterly inane dream/nightmare arose from a crossword puzzle I did last week. The clue was “Most commonly occurring English word” and the three-letter answer: t-h-e. Now I have a dilemma: either I give up writing or I give up crosswords. (In reality, I think there is a third option: I say no to a third glass of white wine when dining with my aunt and cousin.)

Wednesday, September 9, 2009


From August 20, 2009:

Gotta crank it up several notches. I am still not fitting in enough writing time each day—at least, not enough to make this an occupation, rather than a hobby. That’s a tricky transition to make. I’ve had more than ten years of feeling satisfied writing when I can. If I made some progress on a story idea one afternoon, wonderful! However, it almost seemed like a bonus, not so much an expectation.

I’ve been writing about six days a week, but the time each day needs to be extended. I need my productivity to fall somewhere between Stephen King and John Hughes. In a recent column in Entertainment Weekly, King noted that we spends 3.5 hours a day writing. (Emails and such are separate.) In a tribute to John Hughes, a colleague noted that one evening Hughes was ostensibly rewriting three pages of the screenplay for “Some Kind of Wonderful”. Come morning, Hughes had generated fifty pages—not for the movie at hand, but for “Ferris Bueller’s Day Off”.

I would say I’m much more on the King end of the spectrum. Or I should be. Right now, three and a half hours of writing is a grind. Two days ago, I had a solid hour of writing in before 9 a.m. I didn’t get back to my laptop until after 5 p.m. It was hard to account for the eight-hour lapse. Now that kind of break seems absurd.

I still have to get over the myth that my living space—be it the house or the cottage—is not conducive to writing. I accomplish things in small flourishes; now I need to add some discipline and better work habits. Having my own schedule without immediate deadlines is entirely foreign. That said, it is time to get acclimated!

Friday, September 4, 2009


It’s official. I’ve shaken thoughts of school and I’m now consumed with writing. Whereas I’ve so many exhausting nights dreaming about unending school problems, last night was my first toss-and-turn writing crisis. Rather than some other person—a student, a parent, a staff member—with a problem, it was my own voice that tormented me. It seems that a year ago, unbeknownst to my present memory, I’d recorded a detailed chronology of the adult novel I’m currently drafting. Somehow it all turned up on a cassette in my trusty mini recorder.

Now such a discovery might be a godsend in the waking hours—you mean, I’ve worked through the whole plot?!—I was frantically pausing the device and typing the ideas. Every possible detail was on that tape! And the cassette must have had a two, or ten, hour time limit on it.

Sometimes when I waken, I remember all the whacky, illogically thrown together ideas from my dreams. Sadly, this was not such a time. When morning came, all was blank. It feels like my notebook got tossed in the dumpster or my laptop crashed and the last week’s work could not be recovered.

I’m going to check my recorder,…just in case.

Thursday, September 3, 2009


From August 11, 2009--Posted belatedly due to lack of Internet access at the cottage

I have successfully completed my four-day, 4,600 kilometer road trip from my home in British Columbia to the family cottage on the Ottawa River in Ontario. There were times during the trip that I questioned the point in making the journey.

One of those key moments had to be at 5 a.m. during the second night’s sleep while in an auto body shop parking lot in Winnipeg. I awakened to the familiar sound of my dog Lincoln gagging. With my legs half stretched out in the trunk of the vehicle, sandwiched between several bags of specialized dog food and loose shoes buffering contact with a suitcase and tennis gear, I could not move fast enough to prevent the inevitable.

I suppose I should be relieved that Lincoln’s vomit was more of a paste than a batter, but the smell—a mix of fermented strawberry and bile-coated doggy dinner negated any sort of consolation. And I’m not going near strawberry jam in the next decade. Lincoln managed to hit my pillow, sleeping bag, a stack of clean clothes, extra bedding, the car seat and the clothes I was wearing. I did my best to remove whatever I could spot with my glove compartment stash of Tim Horton’s napkins and generous dabs of bottled water, but the stench never went away during my final two days of living in the car. Maybe that was part of my motivation to get to the cottage in record time—four days, not five.

I could only listen to my greatest hits collection of Simply Red so many times, no matter how much I enjoyed reconnecting with forgotten gems. And, given that much of the trip traversed vast stretches of farmland and forest, clear radio stations were fleeting. It didn’t help that Christian and country radio—and one odd Spanish station—carried the strongest signals.

I had a lot of time for thinking. The first day across B.C. was void of any writing ideas. I was still getting oriented to travel mode—and stewing over a speeding ticket awarded after passing a truck that I’d been stuck behind for twenty minutes.

Fortunately, much of the first chapter of a children’s novel I’d been thinking about came to me once I settled for the night in the parking lot of a car dealership in Fort Macleod, Alberta. (When sleeping in my car, I try to pick businesses with cars in the lot. That way, my car doesn’t stand out so much—bike hanging off trunk rack notwithstanding—and then I don’t have to worry about a police officer banging on my window in the middle of the night, telling me to move my loitering butt along.)

Without an electrical outlet for my laptop and with my notepads buried in a backpack somehow hidden as a result of an in-transit avalanche that occurred early on due to my faulty packing technique, I grabbed my long unused mini recorder and rambled on with a flood of ideas to begin the novel. And so began a series of dictated writing flourishes during the remainder of the trip. Random travel thoughts are interspersed throughout the tapes: something about faux roadkill (burned out tires); a rant about Thunder Bay’s hidden gas stations; a musing about a small town named Head, Clara and Maria. (Yes, that’s one town name.)

Today I get to listen to the tapes and turn the recordings to written text. No doubt, there will be a fair amount of drivel in my spontaneous notes. I’ll attribute any such passages to road fatigue (and that lingering berry-scented vomit), but I am hoping there will be some keepers in the mix and fodder for further writing.

This is it. It took four days of driving and three nights of sleeping in the car, but I have made it to the cottage, my abode for the next two months. I am hoping the place will inspire a flurry of writing activity. And I’m blocking all thoughts about the return trip. Time to live in the moment!

Monday, July 27, 2009

Letting It Be

I met a friend in Vancouver for lunch today and figured it would be a productive writing day. I’d have forty minutes each way on the ferry. There are “Business Work Stations” (a row of study carrels) on board to allow me to plug in the laptop and write. The bus trip to downtown would be slightly longer. For that leg, I packed two writing magazines and a book I’m using to research a historical setting for a new novel.

As I readied to leave the house, I had a feeling my plans might not happen. The sun was blazing and I knew I wouldn’t hit a patch of shade on the walk down to the terminal. I also knew the bus wouldn’t be air conditioned. Lugging around my bulky, outdated laptop was the first idea I nixed.

On the ship, I was a sticky mess. I’ve never been a person who does well in heat. (How I lasted eleven years in Texas is beyond me. Of course, the constant gusts from fully cranked A/Cs helped.) I stepped onto a shaded outside deck, begging the sea breeze to cool me. In no time, I was captivated by the views: sparsely-cottaged islands, the odd log drifting in the water, the mountains in the distance with the last tufts of snow now gone. Postcards at every angle. (My neglected camera remained at home on the kitchen counter.) I stood there and took it all in. No writing. The evolving scene reminded my why I moved to the Sunshine Coast and gave up the daily perks of urban life.

When temperatures pass 30˚ Celsius, you’re never cool for long. The queue to board the bus—seven minutes in that relentless sunshine—got me sweaty again. (So glad I tossed an extra shirt in the backpack to change into for lunch!) The crammed bus didn’t help matters. I gave up my seat, in part to be chivalrous—something most of the comfortably seated men knew nothing about or consciously chose to ignore. Admittedly, I also thought standing might feel better than sticking to vinyl seating.

The opportunity to research was lost. I people watched (and people listened) instead. That fellow with the shorts pulled up too high? He gave me a detail for Nester, a character in an upcoming novel.

Even in Horseshoe Bay for 30-40 minutes while waiting for the return ferry, I passed on going to my favorite café to sit down and write. The trend of being in the moment continued. I got my coffee to go and sat in the park by the water, taking in small details of everyday life: the Basenji who beat out the lab to scarf down a dropped fried fish stick from a distracted child, the father who kept tabs on his developmentally delayed teen son with a leash, the woman idly breastfeeding her infant in the most central (and public) spot in the park, the sea gull digging for any remaining flesh in a mussel shell abandoned by a previous diner.

Sometimes plans push me and make me accountable. Other times they represent noble intentions that need to be strayed from, delayed or, as in this case, abandoned altogether. Still, today was a productive day for writing. I just don’t have anything in my notebook or on my laptop to show for it.

And I’m okay with that.

Sunday, July 26, 2009

It's Alive!

I love writing in libraries. For my first novel, I must have written in a half dozen Vancouver libraries, two in Richmond, one in Whistler and one in Arnprior, Ontario. The stacks of published titles inspire me. The diverse patrons fascinate me. There's a story behind why each one is there.

While in Vancouver for the weekend, I camped out in the Oakridge branch, which is part of the popular retail mall. The library itself is only accessible from a separate outside entrance. A shame, really. Two friends I met with for meals reacted with, "There's a library at the mall?!" Of course, the library faithful have no problem finding it.

The branch closes at 9 p.m. on Friday nights and when I left fifteen minutes early--yes, turning off the lights and having a pregnant pause before restoring power gets the point across, albeit with no trace of subtlety--the place was still a flurry of activity with people of all ages.

I returned the next morning three minutes after its 10 a.m. opening and two dozen patrons had already staked out their places.

In the afternoon, I moved to a study carrel in the Quiet Zone, having had my fill before lunch of overhearing animate conversationalists. (Two older gentlemen had perched on stools ostensibly for computer users. They exchanged opinions about Castro, the Middle East and Stephen Harper's chances for reelection. They hadn't moved in the time I quieted my growling stomach. This was their community stoop.)

The young Chinese guy in the carrel beside me spent the next three hours busily studying his laptop screen. Talk about focus! I'm the type of person who needs a stretch break every twenty minutes. (That's when I randomly wander amongst the stacks and dream about that heretofore never contemplated trip to Corsica. The book on sprucing up one's flower boxes seemed a little too relatable--and too much like work.)

My carrel-mate's self-discipline rubbed off a bit. My breaks were at least shorter than usual. I wrote several pages for a new project, revised four short stories and read a couple of chapters from a how-to guide on screenwriting.

Twenty minutes before closing time as I packed up my belongings, I couldn't help but peek over the carrel to see what it was that so thoroughly consumed my neighbor. Turned out it was a videogame. My initial reaction was, He couldn't do that at home? He needed the Quiet Zone for that?!

Why not? Two gentlemen parked in the library to chat about current events, I was there to write, and here was a guy who needed a haven to play a game. Like I said, there's a story behind each library user. Each of us got what we needed.

As I made my way through the library and toward the exit, the place was still hopping with patrons. Thankfully, I am not the only one who appreciates a local library.

Wednesday, July 22, 2009

Letting Go (or What's Love Boat Got to Do with It?)

Today is the day I've set for sending out Boys' Shorts, my collection of short stories targeted to teen boy readers. However, I sense myself delaying the final steps. What makes me hold on when I know the time is right to submit the manuscript?

One might think I have a fear of rejection. Knowing that the work is still in my hands keeps publishers from mailing me polite form letters that summarily dismiss the writing. I don't think this is a concern. Sure, rejection hurts, but I can always stock up on Häagen-Dazs to console myself.

Perhaps I am avoiding the grant applications that I need to complete. As long as I am tinkering with Boys' Shorts, the paperwork can wait. I am not a form fan. But then, is anyone?

Maybe I have a problem with letting go. I began this project a year ago. That's a relatively short time for me. (I held onto Fouling Out for eight years.) The short story collection has been exciting to write with so many characters and predicaments that ranged from funny to serious to mundane (yet quirky). I have enjoyed shifting gears so quickly from one story to the next and going back months later, only to be surprised by a particular story's ending.

Perhaps I should see a therapist about this letting go issue. It could be big! Of course, I could not afford the sessions which could continue to months, if not years. What if it all comes down to a repressed childhood incident when I was forced to attend a church games night in lieu of watching a rerun of "The Love Boat"? It's possible. "But Charo's guest starring. She's gonna break Captain Stubing's heart. And Florence Henderson's on, too. Mrs. Brady!" (To underscore how much I am delaying sending off my manuscript, I found a Charo-Florence Henderson clip on YouTube--after I'd paired them in my blog. You can YouTube anything! Take a peek. Perfect your cuchi-cuchi!)

Without the therapist, I will have to work through my letting go problem. I understand the issue on a surface level. Why would I want the fun to stop? I have to trust that I will have at least as much fun on my next writing project.

After the grant applications.

It's been a year since I began the project

Monday, July 20, 2009

The Name Game

Remember that ultra-catchy ditty, "The Name Game" by Shirley Ellis? Okay, I'll admit I hadn't heard the song until I was an adult and a friend mixed a tape with quirky hits, including that one. Still, it's worth a first listen (or a nostalgic revisit). Check out "The Name Game" on YouTube.

I've got my own name game to play today--and it isn't nearly as fun as the song! My goal is to submit my short story manuscript (technically, some sample chapters) in two days. I am tinkering with a couple of things before my self-imposed deadline. One thing I did this morning was conduct a name search through the forty-two story collection to see if I'd repeated any names. Oh, the results shocked me! I've used thirty-one first names two or even three times for different characters and ten last names.

Some names will remain. Tim and Mary are common enough that I can justify having the name crop up a second time. But how did I use Willis for two different characters?! (I don't even know a Willis. It was a random name that came in the writing moment. Twice apparently.) And Ginny? Nadine! Meredith!

I used the last name Reineke in two stories. Yes, there was a girl in college with that last name. She was an acquaintance at best. I don't think I have some long-repressed crush on her. What gives?! (There will be no Facebook reunion.)

I'm pulling out my phone book and some magazines to go back to my tried and true character naming technique. One random flip and I point my finger: first name. Next flip and point: last name. It shouldn't take too long to rename a slew of characters--unless there is a disproportionate number of Luke Wainwrights living on the Sunshine Coast!

I may even play the Shirley Ellis Name Game to alter one character's moniker. Let's see,...Jimmy Jimmy bo Bimmy Bonana fanna fo Fimmy...

Sunday, July 19, 2009

Working on Sunday

I had a lovely visit with a group of Richmond teachers on Friday and Saturday. When I met the seven women (and one little lady) at the ferry terminal, the first to hug me announced, "Your harem is here!" The conversation, food and drink flowed easily. For some reason, when the last person left yesterday, the writing didn't flow as well. (No, it had nothing to do with "clucking of the hens" as my friend Patti referred to the visit in a follow-up email.)

Whatever the reason, today is a new day and I am eager to write again. Yes, it's Sunday, but that's the thing about an unpaid sabbatical. My food cupboard will not remain miraculously stocked with no-name oatmeal. And watering down the portions will only work for so long. (Oatmeal soup,...mmm, mmm good!)

Back to the writing. I wouldn't want it any other way!

Thursday, July 16, 2009

Now What?!

Fifteen minutes ago I finished my latest manuscript, a collection of forty-two short stories targeted at teen boys. I completed the drafts in March and have spent the time since then revising before I submit the project to publishers. Most of the work has been done over the past two weeks when I didn’t have any distractions from a day job.

I should feel elated. At least relieved. It hasn’t set in yet. There will be a little more tinkering with the order of presenting the short stories and some contemplation as to which ones to submit as samples. Also, I’ve got to refine my cover/query letter. I expect to mail the project by the middle of next week. Once I actually hand it over to the postal worker, I think I will feel that sense of accomplishment.

It’s important to celebrate in some way. Before the rejections come in. (If they do. My first book was accepted by the first publisher. A fluke, I’m told.) No matter how dismissive and formulaic the rejection letter, nothing can take away from the fact I completed a writing project that began a year ago. I enjoyed every part of the writing. The short stories—and let me emphasize short—allowed me to bounce about from idea to idea. The collection began as a constructive diversion from another novel I was working on. That manuscript remains incomplete, something that has sat cold for many months. It’s harder to dive back into a novel than a set of short stories.

When I started out, I planned to write forty. I feared I might run out of ideas after a dozen stories. Fortunately, the synopses were plentiful. Just yesterday, I jotted down ideas for more. Sure, I need someone to accept the original set, but I am getting excited about a sequel. Writing doesn’t stop; it just changes course, if only slightly.

Sunday, July 12, 2009

Funemployment, Indeed!

July 10, 2009

I’m in Vancouver for a couple of days, but the writing continues. In fact, I should be more productive since someone else is caring for the dogs and I have fewer excuses for leaving a library and returning home where I’m typically less productive.

Anyway, I was putting off the beginning of today’s writing by planning to swim laps at a local pool. Unfortunately, due to the ferry timing and traffic, I had to forego that idea since there wasn’t enough time to fit in a decent workout before the pool would be overtaken by floating mats, plastic basketball nets and bendy Sytrofoam sticks—they must have a name, but I’m not in thick with the bendy stick crowd.

I went for a cinnamon bun instead. Yeah, I know, aquatic exercise or decadent pastry, there seems to be something illogical in my choice pairings. One might accuse me of driving awfully slowly to the pool, but I’m sticking to my stance that I really wanted to swim.

While I tore away at my lunch (yes, lunch—cinnamon is one of those good-for-you spices, isn’t it?), I picked up a free local rag, WE, billed as “Vancouver’s urban weekly”. The cover story caught my attention: “Congratulations, you’re fired. It’s time for Funemployment.” Okay, I’ve never been axed, but I still felt I’d be able to connect with the article. In reading, I learned that funemployment was first used about a month ago in San Francisco’s SF Weekly. Everybody wants to coin a new word. (I read in this week that frenemy and vlog just made the cut. I’ll play along and nominate webstereyes, a verb, for the act of trying to create a new word to earn a place in standard dictionaries, as in This lame word is my attempt to webstereyes, my alternative track for getting published. You saw it here first!)

Back to this new SF term. I don’t think it’s catchy enough to catch on just yet. Shorten it to funployment and I think you’ve got a hit. So what does the word mean? For those of you who can’t imagine what an expression derived from fun + employment could pertain to, I’ll quote WE’s reference to the original source. The term refers to “laid-off people…collecting unemployment benefits and using their newfound time to reassess their career goals, and then launch their own creative businesses.” Basically, getting creative in an effort to make ends meet in tough times.

People are daring to explore paths they’d never dared dream to pursue as a career. That’s the part I can relate to. I’m just the crazy one who isn’t collecting EI in the process. No net to catch my fall. Still, I can underscore the fun in my own version of funployment. An acquaintance gently mocked me yesterday for taking three whole days off in transitioning from principal to writer. Well, I couldn’t wait any longer. It seems I waited ten months to get started on this adventure and another week to read a trashy novel or watch Oprah reruns seemed a total waste. (That Serengeti safari got nixed on account of my new frugality.) I’m early into my year of writing, but I’m loving it. When I power down the laptop each evening, I’m excited about resuming the next day.

After a swim workout or cinnamon bun excursion, of course.

Monday, July 6, 2009

DAY 1--Bring on the Rain!

July 6, 2009

It’s a cloudy morning and the showers have begun. What a perfect day to start my year of writing! (Okay, I’m not the sun worshipper of my youth, but still I have fewer possible distractions. The lawn will not be mowed. The dandelions can thrive another day. The deck shall go unswept. Why is it that these tasks only seem pressing when I’m writing?)

I’m easing into this process. Some would be inclined to dive right in, but I like to dip my toes in to send a message to the rest of the body. Cold, yes. But, ooh, you’ll get used to it! Let’s hope. Last year, my Summer of Writing was a great experiment. I blogged and logged my experiences to hold myself accountable and I managed to write for period of time each day. Thirty minutes was the minimum while three hours represented a flurry of activity.

As I am embarking on a one-year sabbatical from my day job as a school principal and bringing in no money as of the end of this month, this little hobby must transform into a serious trade. Thirty minutes of writing? Bah! That’s a day off. Three hours—gulp, here goes—must be the new minimum. I will have to build up to that in the next week. Five to eight hours will be the goal.

Whereas I’d casually begun my days last summer, I will need to maintain more of a schedule for my writing. No lingering about in the mornings, letting Mr. Sandman influence my foggy brain. I shall shower, dress and walk the dogs to begin the day, then grab a cup—er, pot—of coffee and settle down to create, tinker, edit or connect with a character. I may even outline! That’s a radical thought for someone who likes to see how things flow, but discipline and direction will strengthen my writing. I can remain flexible enough to change paths when the plot or the characters compel an adjustment in the journey, but my endings will be stronger, more fully realized if they are considered from the outset.

For now, I am already behind. I failed to clear my desk this weekend to begin with a clean working area. I could spend the next two hours pondering what to do with each slip of paper, but I am giving myself two minutes to apply that deck sweeping desire to my desk. True, I will have (yet another) pile on the floor, but I can deceive myself into thinking it is an essential piece of “furniture” as my dog Lincoln discovers it and uses it as a new pillow. He’ll be better rested and I’ll be ready to write!

The Beginning

What have I done?! Sure, it was thrilling when I finally blurted to my boss that I wanted to take a year off work in order to write. Ah, what a dream!

Did I really say it out loud? Did my boss actually accept my leave request? Do I have the money to survive? Yes, yes and, well, let's hope. Perhaps a side query over the next 365 days will be whether a middle-aged man can survive off instant noodles. (True, it works in college, but so do all-nighters and toga getups. Aging can be cruel.)

I have gone from being a highly responsible elementary school principal to an unemployed, fledgling writer. I have been fortunate to have one children's novel in print, Fouling Out (Orca Book Publishers, 2008), but, contrary to what some of my readers believe, not every published author lives a Rowling kind of existence. I've had to let the butler go and--gasp!--refrain from hiring a housekeeper.

I shall blame last summer for my decision to take a sabbatical. I wrote every day and loved the creative process of bouncing from one unfinished writing project to another. When late August came around, I pined for the opportunity to pursue my writing more seriously. And now I've gone and done it. Instead of being a closet writer with big dreams, I am declaring myself a full-time writer to the thousands--er, one or two--who read this blog.

Over the next year, I shall share my journey. For anyone else who dreams of quitting a day job and following a whim to write, learn from my foolishness. Perhaps one of us will succeed!