Finding the Santa Within

Word count: 274                        Reading time: 1 min.

By the time I was seven years old, my mother’s interest in being a homemaker and nurturer of children was fairly exhausted. When Christmas rolled around there was only one way I would see Santa Claus and that was if I took myself. So I boarded the bus to town, rode the escalator to the fourth floor of Eaton’s and whispered my secret wishes into the ear of a complete stranger.

I left Santa’s kingdom with free candy and an enormous sense of self-reliance. That early sense of assurance has helped me in and out of many situations since, but none less than my efforts as a writer.

Successful writing demands independent thought and a significant level of self confidence. In the words of Sylvia Plath: “Everything in life is writable about if you have the outgoing guts to do it, and the imagination to improvise. The worst enemy to creativity is self-doubt.”

I jumped into creative writing with absolutely no training and a vague hope of entertaining family and friends. When I submitted my first short story to a competition in Australia and it received a Commended award, it inspired me to write more.

Since then I’ve tried to associate with positive-minded people. After all, as Vince Lombardi said, “Confidence is contagious. So is lack of confidence.” I’m on that bus to see Santa Claus and no one is going to persuade me I shouldn’t be there. I’m independent enough to believe I belong and I’m grateful to have met encouraging people along the way.

What made you get on the bus? Does your self-reliance and confidence increase the more you write?

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Photo of Santa Ross by Greg Johnson  

Take a deep breath

                                    

Word count: 285                             Reading time: 1-2 mins.

No man is an island entire of itself wrote John Donne. The advice-to-writers’ take on that quote is: if you want to succeed you must join a writers’ group. This advice pops up frequently and, for all the benefits group membership promises, there is a potentially disastrous downside: the destruction of your work.

I have seen a writer leave a meeting early, only to have another member of the group turn to the rest and say with a sneer, “Who’s going to want to read something like that?”

I sat speechless and wondered, “Is that how my prose will be discussed when I am out of earshot?”

Likewise I have had fiction shredded by members of an online group who felt that anyone else’s success detracted from theirs. I left that group quickly and didn’t bother to report back when the two much-criticized stories won awards.

Julia Cameron in her book The Writer’s Life says, “I have seen more good writing destroyed by bad criticism than I have ever seen bad writing helped by good criticism.”

Anyone who’s ever had the best from a writing group – support, companionship, and encouragement – may not understand the damage a bad group wreaks. Anyone who joins a group needs to proceed cautiously and remember the words of E.B. White A writer’s courage can easily fail him…I admire anybody who has the guts to write anything at all.

I agree writing does take courage but sharing it takes even more. How do you avoid feeling stranded at the edge of the world with your work? Do you share with a group or only let a few select readers have a look?

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Illustration by Harmsen Van der Beek

Digging in

Word count: 267                           Reading time: 1-2 mins. 

A ridge of high pressure slipped over Vancouver earlier this week and I groped my way into the sun-drenched garden, as blind as a mole. I raked the leaves from around the Japanese maple and found a buried treasure of vibrant crocuses and snowdrops pushing through last autumn's litter. Earth teach me renewal as the seed that rises in the spring says the Ute prayer.

I’ve uttered similar words more than once when lifeless prose filled the screen in front of me, when I felt stuck in an endless writing winter. It’s still cold outside but I’ve got a handful of story seeds to throw into my writing garden. Unfortunately I have little idea which will grow to dandelions and which to brilliant flowers. I’m in the conflict part of my creativity cycle  so I remind myself of the words of Madeleine L’Engle: “Inspiration usually comes during work, not before it.” I will sow them all and work to see which one grows to that magic beanstalk.

If I invest some sweat equity into a few ideas that don’t pan into anything interesting, it won’t be the first time. I have an entire folder of deleted scenes, unfinished short stories, and even a couple of stillborn novels. Every one of them has helped me hone my skills in its creation but sometimes a person has to ruthlessly cull the random growth, even when it’s the product of much loving labour.

What is growing in your creative compost now? How do you choose what to keep and what to dig back into the soil?

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Photo: Leonidtit

Quiet Please. Woman at Work.

Word count: 345                  Reading time: 2-3 mins

The noise is killing me! I’m not talking about auditory noise, I’m talking about psychological noise that can paralyze a writer. I’ve got books, magazines, and audio files on how to write. I’ve taken courses online and in the flesh. Whenever I sit down to the keyboard I can channel a dozen voices on how to proceed. All of them contradict each other.

A deafening maelstrom was already brewing when I went to a seminar held by The Writers’ Union of Canada called Secure Footing in a Changing Literary Landscape. Presenter Ross Laird said that the internet is the single biggest change in publishing since the invention of the Gutenberg Press. Writers need a platform he insisted. I answered his challenge; I reserved my own domain name.

Eventually I even launched this website which increased the level of noise around me. Then I had to find readers for it. Answer: Twitter. These two steps turned up the volume even louder.

Twitter, at any given second, has people offering topnotch advice and links to highly relevant blogs. It is such an irresistible force that I have to discipline myself to look at it no more than once a day. Otherwise the voices I want to hear – those of my characters – are drowned.

In the Writer’s Digest magazine, Writing for Kids & YA, Sherman Alexie offered this advice “Every word on your blog is a word not in your book.” There’s a voice I need to listen to! I’m going to stop this right now, right here. It’s time to get back to writing. Until the next time I hear the sirens call.

Can you hear through all the noise around you? What voices are you listening to?

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With a special thank you to Jessica Klassen for the January 26th tweet that inspired this blog.

PS As if to prove my point, when I tried to post this blog 6 hours ago, the webhost's software kept locking me out. But what's half a day lost in the great time drain of the internet?

 

Photos by: (above) picstudio (left) drbimages