Resolutions

Many of us take a moment to reflect on our lives at this time of year and set goals for self improvement. How many of you are vowing to go to the gym more often, eat more vegetables, learn a new language, give up shopping? Resolutions (albeit, set at an arbitrary time of year) can help us focus on what we want for ourselves.

I asked this month’s Brockton Writers Series writers to share their annual writing goals. Mary Frances Coady, Nicole Tanguay, Carlyn Zwarenstein and Janice Goveas all had plans to write more, submit more, and complete projects. Each of them are accomplished poets, playwrights, non-fiction and prose writers. I know they’ll get those stories published, finish their manuscripts, find more time to wordsmith.

I’ve been considering my writing goals for the year ahead, but I have to be careful about setting them. Raised by a workaholic, I tend to set my bars pretty  high all year round and sometimes forget to notice how far I’ve come and how well things are going. As a rule, I aim to write 5-10 pages per week, to spend an hour every day on book promo, and meet nearly all the grant application deadlines. I take the work of writing pretty seriously.

I could come up with even more goals. My second novel will be released in March and I should attempt a few readings each month. I’m working on my third novel and would love to have a draft completed by year’s end. All this will probably happen.

But I think I might need different sorts of resolutions this year, ones that allow me to enjoy my writing life just a little more. Its a privilege to be an artist, and a joy to have my work published and read.

So, this year I resolve to: have tons of fun while touring Six Metres of Pavement, delighting in the travel and the lovely people  I’ll meet along the way. I won’t over-focus on sales statistics. I’ll write as though critics don’t exist. Play and work will collide.

Location, location

Writers are often asked where we write. It is a question as much about writing process as it is about location. What spaces provide inspiration, focus, or unblocks a writer?

When I’m in the process of writing a novel, it’s usually at home in front of my computer, or in a cafe. I write in long blocks or short breaks between appointments. My most productive writing has happened “on vacation” in a busy library in Del Rio Texas, just a block away from my father’s house.

First drafts of poetry nearly always happen in the moments in between stuff, when I’m alone and waiting for the next thing to happen. Buses are good, so are trains. Restaurants, too, when I arrive too early for my date.

I asked the November 2nd Brockton Writers Series writers to answer the question, to share something of their own writing process with the audience. Here are their answers:

Nehal El-Hadi writes “absolutely everywhere”. She often begins a piece on her cell-phone, texting herself bits and pieces of prose to work on later.

Carole Giangrande carries around a “crummy, old , battered notebook” to record her ideas.

Jules Lewis likes to write at the University of Toronto Libraries, “because it’s free”.

May Lui writes anywhere except in her apartment, where she gets easily distracted. She carries a tiny notebook to “scribble down brilliant sentences”.

So, where do you write?

Crafting an Income

First published Mar 30, 2010 by The Mark

Today’s best Facebook status update was from a friend who is an author: “Royalty cheque finally arrived. Time to get that root canal!” The post received a dozen commiserating comments from other writers – and not about the pain of dental work.

Most writers I know aren’t rich. They cobble together incomes from paid writing and speaking gigs, meagre royalties, and grants from insufficiently funded arts programs. Many add on part-time or full-time employment and raise children too. They scrape together enough (or not enough) time and money to continue working on their craft.

I’m talking about established writers here – people who are published, who have an audience, whose Google hits number in the thousands. Yes, it’s old news, but times have changed. Huge advances are a thing of the past. Independent bookstores are closing their doors. Writers have to use their creativity to pay the bills.

Years ago, I quit a full-time job as a social worker to start a part-time private psychotherapy practice in order to gain more writing time. Most weeks, my writing/psychotherapy is a near equal balance, with the exception of winter when new clients arrive in droves, and summertime, when people leave for vacations. In other words, my writing waxes and wanes with the whims of my higher-paid work schedule. Sometimes, I feel jealous of full-time writers.

Still, I manage to write almost daily, and sometimes I have the luxury of an uninterrupted eight-hour stretch. In many ways, this is the ideal way to write novels; I can be inside the minds of my characters all day long, thinking, planning, dreaming.

I’ve often pondered what it would be like to not have a “day job,” to earn enough income through royalties or arts grants. When that seems too far-fetched, I fantasize about month-long writing retreats in the middle of a forest.

Would I be as productive if I had this luxury? I’m not sure. There is something to be said for the structure a second job creates. Yes, it breaks up the writing, but it also trains me to use the remaining time well. I edit previously drafted passages in the gaps between clients, I reserve mornings in my agenda in pink highlighter, and I set goals to increase page counts. I treat my writing time as something precious.
I’ve heard other writers with day jobs express similar sentiments. There’s the parent who wakes at 5 a.m. every day, the consultant who accepts three-month contracts to earn just enough to get back to his writing, the teacher who spends weekends and vacations finishing her second novel.

I keep my day job for a number of reasons besides the obvious financial one. My clients are interesting people. The emotionally focused experience of psychotherapy complements the imaginative process needed for fiction. Plus, I’m good at the work, and it’s helpful to have a consistent feeling of competence and purpose (especially on days when a rejection letter or the results of an unsuccessful grant application arrive in my mailbox).

For now, my two jobs, writing and psychotherapy, suit me. But I have a feeling that the work of keeping them in balance will be something I’ll continue to question and grapple with for a long while yet. Today, my Facebook status update will read: “Three new pages in the morning, three ongoing clients in the afternoon. A good day.”

Embracing Change

I attended a very useful symposium put on by the The Writers Union of Canada this past Friday called “Secure Footing in a Changing Literary Landscape”.

Well, the literary landscape has not felt secure to most people in the industry. Writers (emerging and established) are finding it harder to find a publisher. Publishers are having trouble surviving within this big-box-gouging era. Independent bookstores are closing their doors. We’re all wondering what to do with e-books, Google lawsuits and social media.

Kind of a bad time to be an author, eh?

And yet the symposium didn’t leave me depressed. Rather, I felt energized and full of new ideas about how to view this strange new publishing-land. I assessed where I’m doing well in a context that demands authors be web/blog/facebook/twitter-savvy and where I can take further steps to reach my audience. I met colleagues and felt a sense of burgeoning community. I remembered why I write and what an important role writers have in society.

A big thanks to Betsy Warland, Ross Laird and Deborah Windsor for facilitating a great day.

PS–if you are a Canadian writer, check out the new Facebook group I set up to help writers share and barter their skills with one another. It was inspired by an activity we did during the workshop.