All By Myself

 Word count: 240                                     Reading time: 1 min.

“Despite all [Edith Wharton’s] privileges, despite her strenuous socializing, she remained an isolate and a misfit, which is to say, a born writer.” wrote Jonathan Franzen in his article A Rooting Interest in a recent New Yorker. By that definition, I’m a born writer too. 

You know all those writers that you see tapping on laptops or scribbling in notebooks in the local coffee shop? I’m not one of them. I need isolation – deep, dark solitude – to work well. Last November I learned of organized write-in events by NaNoWriMo participants and asked the person convening meetings at Waves Coffee House what was involved. Her answer: a bunch of people fire up their laptops, consume coffee, write, and engage in intermittent word wars.

Write in public? I thought. Won’t that silence the angels and demons who whisper when it’s just them and me in the room?

Franz Kafka said, “Writing is utter solitude, the descent into the cold abyss of oneself.” When I make this descent, it’s not a lonely place to go. It’s an essential tonic to the busy-ness and noise of life. Writing is a time to sit alone with my visions and see if the words I've scratched into my notebook will burst into life, like sea-monkeys, when transcribed to my novel.

Can you work with distractions, greeting family, friends, and passers-by? Or do you need isolation for your writing process?


Photo by: Ncousla

Spring Growth

Word count: 247          Reading time: 1 min. 

As the local cherry petals drift to the ground, the rhododendrons are starting to open in a riotous display of spring colour. The other day I drove around a corner and a host of golden daffodils almost blinded me. My mistake: it was a thick carpet of dandelions.

Still it’s a season when the world seems bursting with life and new energy and I feel out of sync when my work isn’t infused with the same urgency. As usual, I turned to wiser people for help. Walter Benjamin said, “Never stop writing because you have run out of ideas. Fill the lacunae of inspiration by tidily copying out what is already written.”

I can’t find the full quote to determine whether he meant copy your own work or copy the work of masters of your craft. Some people I’ve spoken to disagree strongly with the idea of copying other people’s work; they suggested it might lead to plagiarism. On the other hand, William Hazlitt maintained that rules and models destroy genius and art.

Because I needed help, I made a decision and started copy-typing pages from Marge Piercy and Margaret Atwood. The sensation of such polished prose flowing off my fingertips invigorated me. I returned to my novel freshly inspired.

When ideas fail or your prose writhes flat and lifeless on the page, how do you encourage new growth? When you aspire to daffodils but dandelions keep invading your space, how do you get back on track?


Photo by: Andrey Prokurononv

How do you know? When do you know?


Word count: 248                                   Reading time: 1 minute 

How did best-selling writer Jodi Picoult know that she was a good writer? Okay there were those degrees from Princeton and Harvard, along with the sales of two short stories to Seventeen magazine while still in college. All of that probably persuaded her she knew something about the world of fiction. Still the question is: after she’d received one hundred rejections of her first manuscript, what made her keep trying?

It’s hard for an emerging writer to stay confident when working in isolation with only a select few friends and even fewer relatives (if any!) to offer encouragement. Low moments have crept into my life and made me consider giving up writing altogether. However, I can’t do that because my head will explode if all these stories and characters aren’t released.

So I’ve searched for methods that might help me determine if I have the stuff of a true writer. I scored high on Caro Clarke’s Am I Really a Writer test. Pamela Redmond Satran offers some reasons that a person might quit here and Adam Heine adds more to the list. I’ve considered all of their arguments but none of them have persuaded me to throw in the towel. Then there’s that exploding head problem after all.

Without encouragement, without a note of music to play for your family, without a dance step to show them or splashy canvas to wow them, how do you keep moving forward? How do you stay motivated in this solitary endeavour?


Photo by: Juliasha

Reflections on the Salish Sea

 Word count: 215                         Reading time: 1 min

I am tired beloved of chafing my heart against the want of you; of squeezing it into little ink drops, and posting it. And I scald alone, here, under the fire of the great moon.

Amy Lowell.

To young children the moon is the stuff of nursery rhymes, Hey Diddle Diddle, and simple prayers. To scientists it is a large rock with a molten core. 

When we adore someone, we say that they have hung the moon. In cards we can shoot the moon. We measure time by it either infrequently, once in a blue moon, or in the far past, many moons ago.

Some times it simply lights our way.

Last night on Salt Spring Island that big old moon flooded the bedroom with bewitching light. As its reflection shimmered on the distant Salish Sea it spoke to me of the cycle of life and energy, particularly creative energy. Every time my inspiration ebbs, I wonder if it will ever flow again. I promise myself it will but it’s nice to have a celestial reminder that darkness regularly comes before the brightest light.

Did you see that great moon last night? Did it inspire lyrical words in you as it did in the Pulitzer Prize-winning poet, Amy Lowell?


Photo: Alan Bolitho