Thursday, October 28, 2010

Are You A Writer?

For years I have had trouble referring to myself as a writer simply because without having something of significance published, I felt like a phoney. Recently however, that began to change. Talk to many people and some believe you're a writer if you write. If you're trying to get published, even if you haven't had anything accepted already, you're a writer because the difficult part really is getting something accepted by a legitimate publication but as long as you're trying, you're a writer.

But with all the convincing that took, I am finding myself a little annoyed with groups that seem to see it differently. Recently, an Alberta Writers Directory has been created. It lists all published writers living in Alberta. The only requirement to be considered a writer, is that you have something of book length published. Novel, collection of short stories, creative non-fiction, poetry collections. But it does not include anyone that has been published in literary journals, magazines or otherwise. So what? They aren't considered a writer. What if you've had numerous short stories published, all you like to do is write short stories, but have no desire to put toghether a collection of stories? You're not a writer?  I agree that you shouldn't be included if you've only had one or two items published but is it really fair to exclude those that don't have book length publications?

And then, I got an invitation to a grand opening event for a new local book store. They are having readings by various local authors throughout the evening. But...the only way to be included in this event is to be reading from, yet again, a book length publication.

Granted, there are events that focus on those writers that don't necessarily have book length manuscripts, that may not have been published as of yet but are trying. But still. It feels a little discouraging. Not saying that those that have worked hard on long manuscripts and been successful shouldn't have some formal recognition. Because of course they deserve it. It's a long process. Often debilitating, driving you to drink on more than one occasion. But when you're struggling to believe in yourself, to believe that you actually deserve the title or distinction but you haven't actually completed it, there are groups telling you that you in fact don't deserve it.

Probably just me taking too much to heart. And I do feel that I am writer even if I don't have as many credits as some of these other writers.

Wednesday, October 27, 2010


How much is too much? How much is too little? Recently I've been working on a non-fiction piece, don't worry I'm still working on the novel too, and I've come to realize there is just not enough of "me" in the piece. It's a personal essay based on my last visit to Holland and I finally worked up a first draft, and then a second, even on to a third. But when I looked back and re-read it something was missing. It didn't have the raw emotion that I thought it needed. So I finally took it to a writer friend that I respect and had her take a look at it.

As it turns out, all the things that I thought it was missing, all things that I thought probably weren't necessary, were reinforced. I don't know why I do that. It's like I know the answer but I need someone to confirm my reservations before I move forward. But there comes the hard part.

How much of yourself do you really want to put into a particular piece of writing? With non-fiction its hard not to because the narrator is usually the writer. But I have the same problems when writing fiction. It falls flat because there isn't enough of me or not enough of a dominant narrator. A narrator that has quirks like everyone does, a narrator that has opinions about certain things even if it's something that's open to debate.
Then I think, maybe I don't know enough about the narrator. Which is fair in fiction. But when you're writing non-fiction, how do you not know enough of the narrator? Aren't you the only person that knows yourself better than anyone else?

It comes down to fear. How much of myself do I want to put out there? How much am I willing to put out there? For it to be good, I guess the answer is simple. Just enough to get your point across. Which brings me back to how much is too much and how much is too little. How do you know when you have just the right amount? Is there suppose to be some fancy trigger or alarm that goes off, like the timer on an oven, letting you know when it's done? Even then sometimes the oven is not right. All ovens are different. Just as all people are different.

I fear I am going in circles. Which leads me to believe, there is no definitive answer. You have to trust your instincts. Something I am pretty bad at doing. I would much rather follow a recipe, have it all spelled out for me. Exact cooking time, exact ingredients. But if the cooking time is wrong...jeez. What if you feel like you've overcooked it, even though to look at it, it still looks not quite finished? So you give it a little more time, and it's still doesn't look done but how could the recipe have been wrong? So you take it out...someone else tries it and says, it could have cooked just a little longer.

Viscious circle. But no one ever said writing was simple. And there is no recipe for success.

Friday, October 15, 2010


When I do things I usually do them to excess. Pick up a book and begin to read and before you know it, I've read 4 books in a week. Start to write with the plan to only write a page and I get sucked in to the world that I'm creating, not coming up for air until my fingers are sore or I am just too tired to think or do anymore, then I drag my creatively exhausted butt to bed and oh I sleep. Too well that to get up in the morning at a reasonable time is almost impossible but am forced to because there's a crying toddler in the other room that is stripped down to nothing, diaper on the floor, probably peed in the bed by that time and is tired of sitting in the puddle. I can get carried away in a conversation, emails or texts, Twitter and Facebook, working too hard and too long...but the problem lies in the initial getting going.


And it's not the energy required, at least not physical energy, because really, none of the things mentioned above require much physical exertion except to maybe reach over and grab the computer, or walk to the bedroom to grab that book I've been meaning to read for months.

I'm overwhelmed and it seems that when my brain is finally telling me enough is enough. It just wants to shut down and I have lost the energy to fight it. Too many deadlines approaching, too many people needing my immediate attention that I just can't do it. I've done tiny things, the things that take little thought and little time, because I just want to get it out of the way and get these people to leave me along for awhile. But there are big things coming up and now that I have shut down for a bit too long, I am having a hard time getting myself going again.

I've tried free fall writing to activate the right brain. I've tried looking at the deadlines I have coming up and deciding which I have to work on first and just how long I need to get them done. I've created spreadsheets and documents outlining how I will accomplish all of these tasks, to excess. I have found every other thing possible to do besides write. At least write anything that resembles a finished product.

So now what?

How do you get motivated?

Any tips or tricks?

Friday, October 8, 2010

Novels, Deadlines and other %&*#

I've heard about it, but never given it much thought. Probably more that I didn't realize you are actually suppose to register for National Novel Writing Month (NaNoWriMo). It works for me as NaNoWriMo is in November and it just so happens that my self-imposed deadline for finishing the first draft of my novel is the end of November. If you're a writer, need some motivation to finish (or start) that novel then check it out. Might work. Might not. If nothing else. It's fun. Oh and be my writing buddy. My only question now is whether I am going to focus on the novel I'm already working on, or maybe, just for this particular project, I will start something fresh and new that's been floating around in my imagination. Oh so many things to consider. But still a little time to toss it around. I guess I'll just see where I'm at by the end of this month.

As for other deadlines, I can't believe the pressure I put on myself. Several projects in the works and all have deadlines up until the end of the year. I will do it though.

I'm taking a new approach on the novel. After in-depth discussion in my novel class, and careful consideration afterward, I have decided to re-write what I already have from a different point of view. Different character point of view. I think this might work out the best in the long run and have already re-written quite a bit. So I really have my work cut out for me.

So I better get writing.

Friday, October 1, 2010

"The washroom's by the front door. Watch your step."

Recently I was revisiting those locked areas of my memory, you know the place where you tuck away all the embarrassing and humiliating things you do in your life, those memories that you more than likely never want to ever see the light of day again, for the sole purpose of a creative non-fiction project I'm working on. Most of these occurred when I was much younger, like elementary school younger. Anyway, as I was recalling all those horrendous memories, I came to this stunning realization. When you're humilated as a child you really feel like your life is over, but when you do something embarrassing as an adult, you're much more able to deal with it and even laugh it off.

Last weekend I took a fabulous travel writing weekend workshop with Marcello DiCintio at the Alexandra Writers' Centre. I've never considered myself to be a travel writer but I thought this particular course might help me with another project that I've been working on since June and in many ways it could fall into the category of travel writing simply because it has to do with a specific incident that happened when I was in Holland this summer. But mostly I've been envisioning it as a personal essay. That's not what this is all about though. Back to the stupidity that can be Robin on rare occasions.

On the first full day of the weekend we were given an exercise to walk around the community, visit a shop, schmooze with the shop owners or whichever sucker happened to be behind the counter at the time. Typically, the thought of interviewing anyone makes me nauseous and this day was no different, although I had a specific place in mind that would also be beneficial to my project. But, before we had to go do our actual exercise, a bunch of us went for lunch at a nearby pub. I've never been to this particular pub before, so after a very delicious BLT and Spinach Salad, I did what most people do. Especially after a glass of wine. I had to go to the bathroom.

Like I said, I had never been to this place before so I asked someone I was with where the washroom was.
"By the front door. Watch your step." Grabbed my purse and headed toward the front door. I walked to the lobby area and looked around. Right there in front of me was an open door and just inside the door a sink and a mirror. Looked like a bathroom. Above the door was a paper sign. Ladies. With an arrow pointing to the left. Inside the door to the left was another open door and there was a toilet. I was still a little confused but okay, that must be the bathroom.

I walk inside and shut the door but just before the door closed, on the other side of the room behind the other open door I happened to notice a urinal. Funny place for a urinal. So close to the ladies room. Essentially the same room, but still separated. So I'm sitting there and I hear someone outside the door, washing their hands and suddenly it's occuring to me that this could very well NOT be the ladies room. That I was sitting there peeing in the men's little room for when a urinal is just not enough.

Shit. Not literally. Damn. I finished what I was doing and waited until I hoped no one was outside the door. Hoping no one was in the room at all. I opened the door real slow as not to surprise anyone and I really had no intention of seeing any penis on that particular day unless it belonged to my husband. Thankfully, I was alone. Washed my hands and slipped out of the room. Only then did I notice the Mens sign on the open door. Why on earth would they leave the door open anyway?

Also thankfully no one that I was with entered the lobby until I was already standing there. But I do have a big mouth and have learned that it's okay to laugh at yourself and to let others laugh at you too so I told one of my friends. I still had no idea where the ladies bathroom was. We headed toward the front door and as soon as we rounded the corner, voila, right there by the door was the Ladies room.

Clearly marked.

Door closed.

And another sign with an arrow pointing to the tiny step in front of the door...Watch Your Step.

Word Vomit

I've rarely been asked the question of why I write but in the last week alone that question has been posed twice. And the first thing that popped into my head was simply, what else is there? But when I really took the time to think about it, saying that there was nothing else would be a lie. There's a lot of other things I could be doing instead of writing. Cooking, at one time I considered going to culinary school along with the other millions of things I considered doing in my life. I used to paint and draw but applying a pencil to paper and creating lines in just such a way as to create an image was not as fulfilling to me as applying words onto paper to create images that would evoke a different image for everyone. I could be happy just being a mom but then what would I have to really share with my children if I don't also have something that I'm passionate about?

But why do I write? From the time I could pick up a pencil and actually put letters together to form words, I was writing stories. It's been a part of me my entire life though there were long stints in which the passion was pushed aside. But how can something you're really passionate about ever be gone. Buried under the garbage of life, yes. But it's always there. Fermenting at the bottom, waiting patiently to see the light of day once again. And when all that garbage has been cleaned up and thrown away, oh the stories it has to tell.

Maybe that's part of it. I have something to say and the only way anyone will really listen is if I write it down. A few years ago I went to interview an author that I really admired, who I had learned a lot from. A virgin interviewer combined with my mild social phobia, I had no idea what kind of questions I should ask. Sure I'd prepared a list of questions but the interview went anything but smooth. In fact, by mid way through she was asking me questions about  my life. I shared with her things that had rarely been shared with anyone. But from the stories I told her, one comment stuck out more than anything. "You should really write this stuff down." As far as I was concerned my life was boring. Mattered no more than the grime on the bottom of my shoe. I left her house feeling confused and convinced that was not how an interview was supposed to go. It got written anyway, and much to my surprise, published.

Over the years that one comment always stuck with me. And after a lot of soul searching realized that maybe I did have some stories that needed to be told. Even if they never saw the light of day, there were things I needed to get down. The paper would be my therapist. Words that rose like bile in the back of my throat, soon became...vomit.

Word vomit.

Like when I was in 6th grade and almost puked on the girl sitting in front of me. Words spilled out onto the page in a mess of thoughts and ideas.

And so that is why I write. There's nothing else i would rather be doing. It's cathartic and fulfilling. And now that the vomit is all cleaned up and I have recovered, I have stories to tell.

Why do you write?