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!