Voice Lessons

I’ve been writing fiction quite a bit lately, thanks in no small part to a small but mighty writer’s group a few of my friends from high school and I formed at the start of the year. We all wanted to be writers when we grew up, and lo, here we are doing it. My goal is to complete the draft of the first book in my Fairy Princess trilogy* by the end of the year and although this goal involves writing/wading through notes at the page of about 5,000 words a week from here to December 31, I think it’s achievable.

I love these women, in my group, and their writing, and I feel accountable to our collective hopes and dreams.

What will suffer is sleep, housework, and my workout schedule. I can handle that.

I keep writing blog posts in my head, but they rarely land on the page. I could blame child-rearing, working, smart phones, or anything else. But mostly it’s habit and practice. It’s strange now to think that I used to blog (pseudonymously) once a day with no concern at all.

A few notes on the last few months:

  • I had a big cancer scare this winter. During that scare, I received a lot of clarity. As a result, I went on a road trip this summer, just me and Noah and Liam as Carl couldn’t take the time off work. It was amazing, although I missed Carl tremendously. I now know why parents take road trips with their kids. It’s because they really do provide that mysterious in-this-together feeling, all day, every day. Our trip was charmed – great weather, more to see and do than we could take in, and a very nice stop with my sister and her family. I’m hungry for me.
  • I’m very glad I made the career move that I did, because getting away from media/marketing/stories for the last two years has given me the breathing room to find my own quirky spin on things. Working at the Academy has pushed me backwards through my career’s full skill set right down to my very first job,  and at the bottom of it all, well, here I am. That said, if anyone thinks smaller business means being less busy, I have an eye opening experience for you!
  • Working mostly with young people makes me much more optimistic than think pieces on the Internet do. That said, I do worry a lot that the voices of ordinary people who want to, for lack of a better phrase, do good…be kind, live a good life without doing harm to others…are gradually becoming faint in comparison to people who would divide us. All the more reason to work on that voice thing.

*Probably not exactly what it sounds like.

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End of the peace process

Last year I entered a writing contest.

It was a flash fiction competition. The deal for the first round was you were assigned a genre and a few things to include in your story, and then two weeks later you had to submit your piece. Since I have been ruining my chance at a literary career by not writing my own things for about a decade — to illustrate this specifically, I did not finish a book while a Canadian literary giant who was championing it was still alive — I thought a two week timeframe was about right so that I didn’t collapse in a pile of goo.

The genre I got was fairy tale and I wrote a story that wasn’t very good about a young woman who learns she’s a fairy princess and kicks ass. But I wrote it.

I got the feedback from the reviewer, and had it focused on my lack of detail or somewhat stilted prose or that two of the characters’ dialogue sounded the same, I’d’ve agreed. But the feedback I got instead was that the story was unbelievable because in one day the fairy princess was able to complete three tasks and save the kingdom, the last being that she had a duel.

I had opened the story with her sword and martial arts achievements visible on her wall. Also, in the fairy tales I read growing up, it seems like the prince was able to complete his three tasks fairly expeditiously without it being a character flaw.

I was enraged and started working on My Own Stuff again for about three entire days, and then fizzled out.

Since then I have been working to make peace with the idea that I am not really a writer. Not because I got bad feedback — as a editor and a writer I know that is a necessary part of the process, even though I still am bad at the emotional part of it. But because the rage didn’t motivate me for very long. Because I don’t write. Because I have defined myself as “someday-a-writer-but-it-never-works-out” for 30 years and so obviously I just…am not.

I have said many more times in the last year that I am a martial artist than I have said anything about being a writer, not just out loud, but deep down. In the continued mental construction of my self, I had taken writer out of the building plans. I even told my writing partner I am not a writer any more, several times. (I think I was ignored.)

But right now I feel like I was building a nice modern restaurant, and I was about to launch it when the pipes burst. And when I took a sledgehammer to the wall to get a better look, I found a venerable old pub back there, with all my old drinking buddies at the bar…Anne Lamott, Julia Cameron, Natalie Goldberg, Stephen King, John Gardner, Ralph Keyes. I’m not sure yet whether I’m having one drink for old times or creating a practice but…it’s so there.

I also feel like I can’t hold my liquor any more — well that’s torturing this metaphor. It’s stiff, writing these posts, and I feel like I’m hobbling around a dance competition. But here I am writing them.

Moby Dick in Manhattan

Back just before my husband and I bought our first house, I was ramping up for a career writing fiction. But then I read a story in the New Yorker about this really talented writer who was living in poverty despite critical praise for his books, because they weren’t really selling. In my mid-20s, the whole thing read like a fate worse than a full-time job, so I got one, and became fascinated by the web, and ended up throwing a lot of my energy into building sites. No regrets really, except that there was one famous Canadian writer who offered to blurb my book if I ever finished and sold it, and he died. Sigh.

Weirdly, though, this weekend I was on one of my favourite question-and-answer sites and someone else remembered that article and asked about it. I remembered enough detail to plug a bit more into Google and so I found “Moby Dick in Manhattan” online. Reading it now, although it still isn’t exactly a tale of glory, it really doesn’t sound so bad after all. It does sound quaint, though, a world without blogs, Twitter, or Kindle self-publishing.